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Phil Willmott

Review: ANNIE GET YOUR GUN at The Union Theatre

Annie Get Your Gun - Union Theatre If like me you're a fan of good, old fashioned musicals and you're theatre-going on a budget then you've a treat in store at the Union Theatre this month.

They're currently presenting Irving Berlin's classic show Annie Get Your Gun in a perfect pocket sized production with a great cast and peppy little band that does full justice to the gold plated score. It includes You Can't Get A Man With A Gun, Anything You Can Do, Doin' What Comes Naturally and of course There's no Business Like Show Business.

Despite these glorious songs however it's a problematic piece. A product of the politically in-correct late 1940's the original script by Dorothy Fields demonstrated a disrespect for native Americans and, despite being written by a woman, it contains sexist attitudes that are unacceptable today. Luckily the lines were rewritten a few years ago by Broadway veteran script writer Peter Stone so we have an acceptable version but the problems don't stop there for anyone planning on staging it in a studio venue like The Union.

It concerns the romantic rivalry between Annie, a hill-billy tom-boy with a gaggle of kids in tow and Frank a fairground sharp shooter who both later team up with Indian Chief, Sitting Bull to make a success of their Wild West show. So not only does the director have to think of a way to stage multiple shooting matches but the cast needs to include actors who can credibly play children and a Native American. I'm glad to say Kirk Jameson solves all these problems with wit and aplomb in a way that I won't spoil by revealing here and with the help of a beautifully judged and subtle performance from Lawrence Guntert.

Considering what a lot of baloney the story is the director and young cast also make an impressive job of turning the cardboard characters into engaging three dimensional figures.

Gemma Maclean has a great singing voice and manages to be both feisty and vulnerable as Annie and Blair Robertson as Bill succeeds in making him both suave and rough around the edges. There's a very good on-stage chemistry between them which makes the unlikely match seem entirely credible. Dayfdd Lansley is adorable as the Wild West troop's twitchy business manager, Charlie, and Lala Barlow makes the comedic most of her every moment on stage as Dolly, a bullying rival to our heroine. It's a delight when these two secondary characters get together.

In an unnecessary extra effort to be politically correct Peter Stone also shoe-horns in a romance between a half Irish, half Indian performer and an ambitious dancing girl. Dominic Harbison and Georgia Conlan are so charming as the two that you happily forgive the clunkiness of this sub-plot and I’ve been humming their comic duet Who Do You Love, I Hope, all day.

Presiding over it all is Colonel Buffalo Bill who owns the touring troop they all work for, as played by Mark Pollard he's a warm and commanding presence whose personality lights up the stage.

Minimally but stylishly designed by Amy Watts and sharply choreographed by Ste Clough this show is a little gem that's well worth searching out near Southwark Tube Station but be warned the theatre isn't air conditioned and the heat and long, slow first half will have you looking forward to a interval refreshment.