(Michael Billington's article appeared in the Guardian, October 18.)
Annie Get Your Gun
Young Vic, London
Irving Berlin's great musical has been marginalised of late for obvious reasons: its apparently patronising attitude to Native Americans and its dubious sexual politics. This, after all, is a show where the legendary Annie Oakley only gets her man, Frank Butler, by deliberately losing to him in a shooting match. But Richard Jones's brilliant production not only overcomes these obstacles but also offers the wittiest musical staging London has seen in years.
For a start, Jones and his designer, Ultz, update the action to the 1940s when the American West was a vital part of the national myth, a point made through two pieces of interpolated film. The first shows a couple of kids, kitted out as cowboys, gawping at iconic images of the West.
The second shows Annie, on a European tour, receiving medals from wartime leaders: even if one winces slightly at her instant hostility to Hitler but easy acceptance of Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, it makes the point that the American West had by then become a form of global fantasy. And Jones gets over the racial difficulties through astute multicultural casting: Annie's young sidekick and Buffalo Bill are both played by black actors while Sitting Bull is performed by the white Niall Ashdown, ironically puncturing Native American stereotypes.
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