Given that Annie Get Your Gun is a brilliant but racist and misogynist musical, you better have a damn fine reason to want to stage it in 2016 – or you’d better do something to shave off the sharper edges of offence.
I get it. I understand why Sheffield Crucible would want to stage it. I’d want to find a vehicle for the effervescent and always brilliant Anna-Jane Casey if I was in charge.
But to put this musical on stage and make no allowance for the fact that jokes about half Indians might not be appropriate for a contemporary audience is, frankly, irresponsible. Even though the casual racist is given a dressing down, it isn’t enough to mitigate this issue. Disagree? You try being an ethnic minority in a theatre – arenas where there are precious few of us – and listen to a full theatre laughing at lines about ‘injuns’ and their strange and crude ways. This production needed to have a sophisticated director on hand to deal with the less palatable parts of the script and Paul Foster fails on this count. The whole thing feels strangely old-fashioned. I get it, it’s about a Wild West show: it’s going to be old-fashioned, but the Crucible has staged My Fair Lady, Oliver and Showboat in recent years, making them all feel vibrant and contemporary, rather than sluggish and lacklustre. The huge frustration is that Anna-Jane Casey, who has won so many fans in Sheffield, deserves better. She attempts to drag the production along with her and some of the actors appear to be battling gamely to keep up. She brings her own take to Annie Oakley, a bandy-legged, backside-scratching, Eddie Murphy-laughing, one-woman riot. The production sags and whenshe isn’t on stage and at points comes to a virtual standstill. The whole thing picks up in the final third – I Got the Sun in the Morning is performed with the kind of energy and panache we’ve become used to seeing in the Crucible Christmas musical and Anything You Can Do is also outstanding.
To January 21.