Review - Annie Get Your Gun - Lavender Theatre, Epsom

Annie Get Your Gun - Lavender Theatre, Epsom

What a wonderful setting for a wonderful show.  On a balmy summer’s evening, I went to see Annie Get Your Gun at a new open-air theatre in Epsom, Surrey.  This was the first production, at a new theatre, and I was not sure what to expect.   

The Lavender Theatre is a completely new venture, where Brendan May from the Banstead Lavender Farm has teamed up with Joe McNeice to produce a professional show at a new site to fill the lavender scented air with beautiful and joyous music.

Before the show, you could wander amongst the lavender fields enjoying a Buffalo Bill Burger and Beer (other options available!) and listen to the live orchestra playing tunes from the show.   The venue comprises a 250 seat covered seating area facing the open to the elements stage, a unique setting where the magic of the stage meets the charm of the great outdoors.

The performance was confidently opened by Elliot Broadfoot making his professional debut as Buffalo Bill Cody shortly joined by the rest of the ensemble, whose rousing rendition of  There’s no business like show business” set the standard high and put the audience at ease about the calibre of the show that was to follow.

The production is set in the wild west, and much was made of this theme, both on stage and off.  Cowboy hats were not mandatory, but in abundance. 

The show is brilliantly directed and choreographed by Simon Hardwick ably supported by the Musical Director Debbi Clarke.  Credit must also go to Adam King, the Lighting Director and Kathleen Hefferon, Company Stage Manager who both made good use of the natural surroundings.

The story is inspired by the spirit of Buffalo Bill’s iconic touring productions, and this raw, spit and sawdust staging was appropriate.  It is a large stage and could have been hard to fill by a relatively small cast, but they managed to make good use of the space, and the difficulty of getting the cast on and off was mostly overcome.  The audience was close to the stage, so became immersed in the production, and the sound of cowboy boots thumping onto a wooden floor during the dance scenes can be forgiven.  The ruggedness of the production transports the audience to a bygone era, and the limited props were creatively utilised, leaving the audience to imagine the change of scenes, the motion of the railroad and the ships as the troupe of players moved from state to state, finally ending in New York City itself.

The show centres on the fragile romance that grows between Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, both struggling with their competitive, stubborn natures.  Will Annie have to give up her gun to win her man?

At the heart of the production is the inimitable, sharp shooting Annie Oakley.  Although set in the nineteenth century and written in 1946 by Herbert and Dorothy Fields (revised in 1999 by Peter Stone), the show is still relevant today.  Annie has become a symbol of the ongoing struggle for equality, embracing the empowerment of women both on and off stage.

The pace of the performance kept the audience engaged, and for such a lively, rugged show, the emotional scenes were handled well.  The chemistry between the two main characters shone out, both parts played to perfection. The part of Annie was played by SuRie (of Eurovision fame). The range and strength of her voice is amazing, and she held the show together.  She was well supported by Charlie McCullagh who plays the handsome, arrogant and bigoted Frank Butler with warmth, humour and gentleness.

Some of the talented cast were able to switch between a variety of roles, and mention must go to Chloe Hart (fresh from playing Catherine of Aragon in Six), who played the unlucky in love Dolly Tate and was also the resident Director.

Well done to the three youngsters from the British Theatre Academy who played their parts with humour and enthusiasm.…….nowhere could you get that happy feeling, when you are stealing that extra bow……  the standing ovation was richly deserved!

This show was reviewed on the 21st July 2023.  Annie Get Your Gun runs at the Lavender Theatre until the 5th August 2023.  Tickets available here: Lavender Theatre - Book Now

**** 1/2 stars

Mandy Watsham-Dunstall & Sue Bradshaw

Catch Mandy every Sunday at 1pm for the 'Ladies Who Lunch' here on Box Office Radio


Photo credit: Harry Elletson