Surefire hit for Petersfield Theatre Group

Annie Get Your Gun (Petersfield Theatre Group)

Festival Hall, Petersfield

Friday, May 26

They certainly rolled up for PTG’s latest show, Annie Get Your Gun, by Irving Berlin, directed by Roger Wettone. The true story of gun totin’ Annie Oakley was a surefire winner for Petersfield audiences, who packed the Festival Hall.

The story follows rough and ready country gal Annie who uses her gun to shoot game, to support her little brother and sisters. Her skills bring her to the attention of Colonel Buffalo Bill, who invites her to join his travelling Wild West Show. There’s a romance, of course, this being a musical – enter rival sharp shooter Frank Butler. But of course, it ain’t easy being eclipsed by a woman, and tension ensues. But it all comes good in the end, in a final shootout.

It’s not quite feminism but bearing in mind the time it’s set and was written, it gives a strong woman the title role, as well as a bit of US folk history.

The two leads were excellent – Suzie Dove as Annie and Elliott Port as Frank. Suzie has a beautifully fluid voice, soaring to extraordinary heights without ever sounding strained or harsh. Her expressive face and irrepressible cheeriness won the audience over immediately – a lovely performance.

Elliott also gave a strong, likeable performance, commanding the stage. He has a warm, easy-to-listen-to singing voice and can dance, too – romantic lead material in spades.

The three youngsters playing Annie’s siblings – Georgie Gardner-Cliff, Bethany Hickey and little sprite Max Merricks were very engaging and obviously having the time of their lives, with broad cheeky smiles on their grubby little faces.

John Edwards as Buffalo Bill really looked the part, all white bewhiskered and fringed jacket. Jo Stephenson as Dolly looked incredibly glamorous in her costumes and brought a bit of her panto stepmother nastiness to the character. Emma Read was great as Dolly’s sister Winnie – I hope to see her in a lead role again in the future. And Joe Dove, straight from picking up a main part in Winton Players’ last production at the last minute, gave it his all as Winnie’s intended, Tommy.

Simon Stanley as Buffalo Bill’s right hand man, Charlie, gave an assured performance, keeping the pace up and pulling scenes together in a subtle yet essential way. Stage experience shows.

Tim Coyte as Sitting Bull worked really hard to maintain dignity without letting his performance become too comedic. I do feel uncomfortable about the portrayal of native Americans in this show. It’s very easy to veer into panto territory, making them caricatures. How would the audience have taken someone ‘blacking up’ to play an African American, I wonder? Sitting Bull has some sardonic lines, giving us a small window into attitudes towards ‘Red Indians’ at that time. But it’s a tricky thing to get right, and I think this element needed a bit more careful handling. But Tim did a good job, despite this.

The ensemble pieces were beautifully sung – as always for PTG. The group contains some great voices, and when combined, the sound could take the roof off!

Quieter moments, too, were delicately done –  Moonshine Lullaby was genuinely touching.

The big top set was good with its red and white drapes (looked familiar, somehow…!) and the moveable set pieces such as the boat and the train worked really well.

The band was very versatile, and being at the back of the stage meant it was part of the action but didn’t drown out the cast. I could hear every word onstage.

Standout moments for me definitely include Anything You Can Do – great fun. And There’s No Business like Showbusiness was being hummed by everyone as they left the theatre. Indeed there is not.

Kat Wootton