The opening night of Annie Get Your Gun at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, I thought would make me feel a bit nostalgic, it was my Mum’s sort of thing. They type of musical that her and my aunts would talk about, if it was on TV she would stop during the ironing to watch, see the happy ever after. I wanted to see how it would be now. I just remembered the afternoons of TV, all of those musicals, all of those stars, nothing like our lives at all and when it was on and being younger loving it and being older, wearing black and avoiding the sun, rolling my eyes at these traditional things and old fashioned women.
Waiting for my 16 year old daughter in the foyer and seeing the other theatre goers walk in I knew I would have to head off the usual remarks that I got whenever I take them to accompany me on review nights so I sent her this text.
‘Just to say before you get here, this was the sort of thing we would’ve taken Grandma to. So remember that before you get sarky about the age group, and if you do get sarky, I’ll wet my knickers and pretend you are my carer. You may as well get used to it now.’
The thing about these musicals is they are the real deal, the actual thing about real people, before situations were made to be vehicles for a certain bands or artists songs as the more recent Mamma Mia and the like which brought the next generation of musical lovers to theatres. These were written by those who by the time we got to hear of them were the giants of their day – we didn’t know or consider their struggles to get where they were from the poverty they started. They were establishment and we were cynical and foolish it turns out.
As the real deal this doesn’t disappoint at all. The Irving Berlin musical predictably contains such old favourites as ‘There’s No Business like Show Business’ and ‘The Girl I Marry’ the songs that are in modern myth, you might not know where they are from but knows them regardless. The costumes and vocals were fantastic and Jason Donovan as Frank Butler plays with the aplomb of the greats of Broadway, the Howard Keels and the like. The bands accompaniment to the whole gave it a real old fashioned feel, but the night was stolen by Emma Williams. Her beautiful vocals, evoking tenderness, bravery, brashness and optimism and her perfect portrayal of a woman before her time yet vulnerable and strong by turns really made this role. The often ‘musical theatre’ vocal that is heard in musicals and makes me wince wasn’t present here just a pure, true voice.
Despairing at the Kardashian and TOWIE loving tastes in viewing my daughters have, little did I expect this to do the job for me showing them a story of an independent and skilled woman face the struggle of fulfilling her potential versus keeping her man happy, the land struggles of Native Americans and the racism they received as well. Annie 10, Kardashians 0 – I did secret punch in the air as the bored ‘Oh yeah here I am, my turn to accompany Mum to one of her shows’ attitude changed and I saw my daughter lean forward in her seat to see the decision Annie made on her own future. Yes, it happens all over, but she didn’t expect it here, and there was a bit of gloating as I pointed out that this was a real woman’s story. I think I blew the moment, the eyes rolled and shoulders shrugged. Again.
It really was a lovely night of music and song, a touching story. The women there my Mum’s age and had it been possible she would’ve been too, I looked at again and remembered the days when these were the stories that lifted them out of the post war struggle and gave them a spring in their young lives. These were the days when people walking off into the sunset was new and not a cliche and so lovely to see it happen again.
Annie Get Your Gun is at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 16 August. Jonathan Wilkes will be playing the role of Frank Butler on 16 August. Tickets can be booked via atgtickets.com/woking or 0844 8717645