What a joy it is to see something being performed with superb commitment as well as style, talent and humour. That’s how we felt about Jane Horrocks and Julian Ovenden, the two stars of ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ at the Young Vic. I was slightly apprehensive about it because the production had received mixed reviews, but in fact all the director’s decisions made perfect sense to me. Irving Berlin’s marvellous score arranged for four upright pianos ranged along the front of the stage; the wide, shallow box of a set built a touch higher than usual above the stalls, making us feel as if we were gazing up at the screen in an 1940s American movie theatre; the cheeky cross-casting of Chief Sitting Bull played by a white man and Buffalo Bill played by a black man. Berlin’s score was very cleverly arranged by Jason Carr so that the technical difficulties were distributed amongst the four pianists. Sometimes the runs and arpeggios came from the left, sometimes from the right, and the four instruments together sounded like a huge pianola.
The whole cast was splendid, but the musical talent and sheer gusto of the two main characters was memorable. I confess that Julian Ovenden was new to me, but what a star! And the sight of Jane Horrocks going almost cross-eyed with communicative effort will stay with me for a long time. There’s something very special about the way she goes a step further than is strictly necessary for the characterisation of the part. It seems to take her performance into unexpected dimensions. Sometimes, even in moments where she isn’t saying or doing anything, you can see her positively vibrating, like a tuning-fork which has just been struck.