You may be stranded out in the cold”
Blessed with one of the almighty scores of Broadway history, you’d think that productions of Annie Get Your Gun would be the simplest of gimmes but given that it is very much a piece of writing of its time, it’s not quite as easy as that (as I discovered recently in seeing Carousel for the first time). The gender politics therein are dubious at best and the treatment of Native Americans also speaks of severely outdated attitudes, so directors are faced with something of a conundrum. The Young Vic just went bizarre with it back in 2009 and now a major UK touring production by Ian Talbot opts for the ‘play within a play’ route, the framing device often used in The Taming of the Shrew to address similarly thorny issues.
Elements of the show have also been removed and tinkered to further redress the gender balance but in all honesty it feels like a step too far – applying both of these patches detracts from their intentions. If it is a bit of meta-theatre, then surely it can just be played as is, as we know not to take it seriously; or if we’re reinventing the story for 21st century eyes, then just rewrite it wholesale. Instead we’re left with something which never really achieves either aspect on a dramatic level, something exacerbated by the limitations of a touring set design. Fortunately, the production sounds like a dream with a superb orchestra though and has some cracking performances in it from a cast who deliver the utterly timeless score by Irving Berlin with all the panache it deserves.
Emma Williams returns to our stages with a dazzling turn as Annie Oakley, bringing huge warmth to the caricaturish Southerner and no little skill as she demonstrates just how much of a triple (quadruple, if you count circus skills) threat she is. Jonathan Wilkes (stepping in this week and at selected other dates for Jason Donovan) was good as Frank Butler though his role suffers the most in the modifications, and there’s excellent support from the likes of Lorna Want and Sarah Galbraith in a talented ensemble. By and large though, the production didn’t really work for me, the enforced atmosphere of circus fun that is the whole concept seemed to fall flat with this midweek matinée audience so I left a bit disappointed.