Annie Get Your Gun, Young Vic, London
Wednesday 21 October 2009
The evening generates a certain degree of warmth at moments, so I didn't have what you would call a bad time – though, given the following list of objections, this must count as quite an achievement. Annie Get Your Gun has an infectiously happy Irving Berlin score and one of the feeblest books of all hit musicals. As an entertainment, it's so undemanding that it's almost demanding. When you think of all the neglected tuners that could be rehabilitated, it is a weird work for the Young Vic to be reviving.
The perversity of choice is compounded by the self-defeating insanity of the execution. Director Richard Jones has had the whole of this wonderfully flexible space to play with and yet decided to confine the proceedings to a wide, narrow, virtually depthless slit of a letter box. To get much of a dance going in such straitened circumstances would be like trying to jump for joy while wedged in one's coffin. On the set, there are two rooms side by side with a door in between and what fun he by and large does not have with that droll further constraint.
Instead of an orchestra, frustratingly, there are four pianos. They accompany some nice singing, especially from Julian Ovenden, who has one of the most beautiful tenors in the business, produced mostly through the mask of the face so that it's like hearing transfigured speech. But really, as Frank Butler, Annie's rival sharp-shooter and lover, he looks like a handsome English public schoolboy with a fetish for dolling up as a cowboy at the weekend. The piece needs sexual chemistry between the leads. Jane Horrocks, alas, is not so much tomboyish here as neuter. She's like Hylda Baker's changeling great niece.
At the start of each act, there are entertaining filmed travelogues, in the second of which Annie (inserted into real footage) is seen receiving medals from the cream of the world's hateful dictators (she doesn't take to Hitler). For reasons presumably of political correctness, the delightful number "I'm an Indian, Too" has been cut, though we are allowed to hear the melody played on a distant cocktail bar piano in the New York hotel scene. That's having it both ways, and then some. Whatever next at the Young Vic, one wonders. The Kabuki Calamity Jane? The Noh No, No Nanette?
To 2 January 2010 (020-7922 2922)
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