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A CurtainUp London London Review
Annie Get Your Gun

Who do we know who can count up to 24?— Annie Oakley
Annie Get Your Gun
Jane Horrocks as Annie
(Photo: Keith Pattison )
This production has a homespun feel with lots of tacky improvisation like an amateur dramatics production but therein lies its charm. It is the antithesis of the polished Hollywood musical.

The next surprise is that the orchestra is four honky tonk pianos and nothing else. The Young Vic auditorium has been totally changed round to accommodate the new production of Irving Berlin's 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun. The extra wide stage has the same proportions as extra wide cinemascope.

Jane Horrocks, a quirky, exuberant actor with heaps of personality plays Annie, the kid from the sticks who can shoot straight and sing pretty. She is slightly long in the tooth but thankfully this is Annie Get Your Gun rather than Annie!. She is called upon to enter looking very scruffy, with skinned dirty knees and dead sparrows hanging from her belt. Apparently the real Annie Oakley made a living selling game.

Playing philanderer Frank Butler "I'm a bad, bad man" is Julian Ovenden who has the kind of wonderful musical voice that launched the career of Howard Keel who played Butler in the 1950s movie. Ovenden's classy songs are show stopping. What is less certain is how these two work as a couple or how convincing he is as a Romeo. Of course the other post-feminist flaw of this show is the message that a woman has to pretend to be less competent than the man in order to get him to marry her.

There is some fun filmed footage. The opening clips sees two children dressed as a cowboy and Red Indian watching old faded, badly coloured footage of the Wild Western landscape and mountains. In the middle of the show Annie, now a great shooting star success, goes on a world tour where she gets medals from world leaders like Churchill, De Gaulle, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Mao. She returns Churchill's two fingered v-sign salute but dumps the swastika medal in a rubbish bin. The film has been cleverly edited with the twinkling, mischievous Annie getting decorated worldwide. Although the musical dates back to 1946, the original Annie Oakley was late nineteenth century.

There is no song list in the programme so I cannot be sure what is in and what is out but I'm pretty sure "I'm an Indian Too" failed to make the cut. Maybe these lyrics were thought to offend? You will love "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" and will be able to answer the trivia quiz question, which show is "There's No Business Like Show Business" from? There are less familiar songs which are also excellent like "I Got the Sun in the Morning and the Moon at Night" which Annie uses to teach the society hostesses the inexpensive joys of living, and the uncomplicated "Doin' What Comes Naturally". At times, I was disappointed with the quality of Horrocks' voice but on the plus side her comedy acting is perfection.

There is no room on this stage for anything that could be called choreography but they also use the auditorium for some entrances and exits and chases. There is no wedding scene so the close is the shooting match where Annie concedes between gritted teeth to "Mr Frank Butler, the greatest sharp shooter in the world". There is excellent support from John Marquez as the accountant Charlie and racially cross cast Buffalo Bill (Chucky Venn) and Pawnee Bill (Eric Maclennan) as well as an interesting Sitting Bull (Niall Ashdown). Liza Sadovy is striking as Frank's curvy assistant Dolly.

Ultz's design has lots of plastic cacti and a curious train scene with a conveyor belt of landmark features going past the windows and then being lifted off by an Indian and handed into the back of the stage — presumably the conveyor belt couldn't turn the corner and keep the miniature silos, water tower and telegraph poles upright. The costumes are fun and there is attention to detail like Ma Wilson (Buffy Davies) having hairy legs. Annie has an exotic ball gown constructed out of the American flag.

The shooting contests are cleverly staged with brilliantly timed sound editing to convince us when a clay pigeon is hit. The show is very jokey with at least two reservation puns for the Indians. If you are expecting a vastly staged West End musical this is not your show but with Young Vic prices half those in the West End, you'll get more bang for your buck!

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Annie Get Your Gun
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields
Directed by Richard Jones

Starring: Jane Horrocks, Julian Ovenden
With: Florence Andrews, Niall Ashdown , Buffy Davis, Alice Fearn, Paul Iveson, Eric MacLennan, John Marquez, Tanya Michael-Davis, Anoushka Mutanda-Dougherty, Amy Papa , Davina Perera , David Ricardo-Pearce, Jessica Richardson, Liza Sadovy, Michael Taibi, Matt Turner, Chucky Venn, Adam Venus
Set Design: Ultz
Costumes: Nicky Gillibrand
Choreography: Philippe Giraudeau
Lighting: Mimi Jordan Sherin
Sound: Matt McKenzie
Music supervision and arrangements: Jason Carr
Additional dialogue: April de Angelis
Musical direction: James McKeon
Film sequence direction: Adam Low
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7922 2922
Booking to 2nd January 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 16th October 2009 performance at the Young Vic, The Cut, London SE1(Rail/Tube: Waterloo)

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