David Lister: Annie get your (politically correct) gun

Saturday 24 October 2009 00:00

Those who like musicals will know that Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun has one of the great scores. Watching the new production of the show at the Young Vic in London with Jane Horrocks, it was good to be reminded of showstoppers such as "Anything You Can Do" and "There's No Business Like Show Business".

But as the show ended, something niggled. I was sure that the score also contained a song called "I'm an Indian Too". But the number, sung by Annie Oakley when she is adopted by Chief Sitting Bull into the Sioux tribe, had been cut.

Surely, surely, I said to myself, this cannot have been due to political correctness. It was. David Lan, the artistic director of this excellent, innovative and challenging theatre, tells me that the song is an "unpleasant" one, that "although the song has many good qualities, it is hard to present to a modern audience whose awareness of racism and cultural sensitivities has shifted since the song was written".

Now, I am an admirer of David Lan. His track record at the Young Vic is highly impressive, but I think he has taken a depressing step here. I looked up the lyrics of "I'm an Indian Too" (and I urge all readers to Google them and form their own opinion). The worst that I could see was the line "Just like Rising Moon, Falling Pants, Running Nose, Like those Indians, I'm an Indian too". Well, it's hardly that offensive. It's spoken or sung by the gauche, childlike Annie. Who exactly would be offended? There are not likely to be many Native Americans in a London audience. And the rest of us, I reckon, can cope.

And here lies my main cause for concern. Why do artistic directors assume that we can't cope, that their audiences don't have the wit and imagination to accept that these songs were written in a different age, an age of different sensibilities, that we listen knowing that, and indeed are curious to know what people were writing then and what audiences were listening to.

Isn't it somewhat condescending of artistic directors to decide what will and what will not offend our sensibilities? And isn't it a liberty on their part to axe something from a script because they take it upon themselves to decide it is no longer appropriate? In this case it is downright daft, as the whole show is out of tune with modern sensibilities, with its overt misogyny and condescension towards women. "The girl that I marry will have to be as soft and as pink as a nursery. The girl I call my own will wear satin and laces and smell of cologne." That song's one in the eye for feminism and modern attitudes. Either cut it all or show it all.

I say show it all. We'll decide as an audience, as individuals in an audience, what we can stomach, and what we think of racial and sexual attitudes in times gone by. We don't want self-appointed censors to do it for us.

It's a dangerous game, this censorship on behalf of what you assume are the sensibilities of the audience. After, all there is a playwright who wrote one play about a Jewish man who demanded a pound of flesh, and another play about a black man with uncontrollable rages, who strangled his white wife. Modern sensibilities may shrink at that. But I don't think we should ban him. Not even at the Young Vic.

Whitney's got the X Factor

One of the TV moments of the week occurred last Sunday night when Whitney Houston's dress began to dismantle as she sang a track from her comeback album on ITV's The X Factor. What was the innocent viewer to do? Concentrate on the voice? The slightly panicking face? The mesmerising strap dangling loose?

Even as she was interviewed afterwards, she still seemed distracted, perhaps plotting how many decibels to use when next speaking to her fashion consultant, perhaps wondering why The X Factor host Dermot O'Leary thought it necessary to kiss her. But you have to hand it to Miss Houston; she was exquisite when he asked her what she thought of The X Factor contestants. She paused, then intoned slowly and deliberately: "They are young, so they have room to grow." And she said no more.

What a superstar, who even in the midst of sartorial turmoil can find a gracious and diplomatic way of saying that she had rarely seen such rubbish.

Let me entertain you with someone else's joke

Robbie Williams's comeback received praise from the critics this week, not just for the music in his concert at the BBC Electric Proms, but for a halfway decent joke that he told.

In his performance at the Roundhouse in London, he introduced the song "Feel" by remarking that it was his auntie's favourite song. "I'm sure she's looking down on us now," he said, pausing briefly to gaze heavenwards before adding: "She's not dead – just really condescending."

I'm pleased to see that Robbie is an Independent reader. He was clearly reading the paper on Wednesday 12 August when our joke of the day from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival came from comedian Jack Whitehall: "I'm sure my dad is looking down on us now. He's not dead – just really condescending."

I think it only fair that Jack should be allowed to sing "Angels" and "Let Me Entertain You" henceforth.

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