Homecoming for Annie Oakley

Paul Foster, director of Annie Get Your Gun at the Crucible, Sheffield
Credit Johan Persson.
Paul Foster, director of Annie Get Your Gun at the Crucible, Sheffield Credit Johan Persson.

Daniel Evans gave Sheffield a string of rip-roaring Christmas musicals at the Crucible, notably My Fair Lady, Oliver!, Anything Goes and Show Boat, so Paul Foster, director of this year’s Annie Get Your Gun, has a hard act to follow.

“It’s an impossible one but you can’t think of that,” he insists. “You have to think, well they’ve entrusted me, and also it’s a team and we’ve all got big shoes to fill.”

It’s a feelgood show and don’t we need that right now?

And it helps that the people around Sheffield Theatres have been so supportive. “It’s a wonderful enabling feeling to be in that building – and not every theatre has that.”

Anna-Jane Casey leads the cast of the Irving Berlin musical as Annie Oakley, a sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

Foster re-unites with her and choreographer Alistair David from a 2010 production of Bells Are Ringing in London. “It was another golden age musical, though not quite as well-known as Annie Get Your Gun,” says the director. “What is similar to this is that it had a powerhouse role for a woman at its centre. One of those shows like this where she is responsible for about a dozen songs – and dancing, comedy, sadness and only goes off to change her costume.

“I didn’t know before I started working on it how much of a look at America it was. It’s a snapshot of a particular time and a particular set of attitudes and particular people’s stories,” he continues.

“Buffalo Bill came twice to Sheffield, once in 1891 and then again in 1903. In that first date Annie Oakley and Frank Butler were still performing so it’s a bit of a homecoming for them!”

Buffalo Bill’s 200-strong company spent a week on a site on Penistone Road and built an arena a third of a mile in circumference. On the afternoon of the first performance there was an accident in which 25-year-old brave Paul Eagle Star fell from his horse and he later died in Sheffield Infirmary. The story was that he was buried in Attercliffe cemetery but that turned out to be a myth.

Foster’s previous production in Sheffield, Tell Me on a Sunday, which toured to the Lyceum last year, was a much more intimate affair.

“I have worked on a big scale before,” he points out. “It’s lovely to have a dance break with 14, 15, 16 people on stage and the thing about the Crucible stage is that the surface area is enormous so it’s wonderful and these golden age musicals are written for lots of harmonies and a creamy sound. We have a 12-piece orchestra and 25 cast members on stage. It should feel full and a treat for Christmas.

“It’s a feelgood show and don’t we need that right now?

“I would say at the moment America is looking in on itself and this is a frontier show.

“They were annexing new territory at this time. The company are travelling through America. The vistas and the skies are huge.

It errs on the side of upbeat and I’ll have a bit of that right now. The score should be prescribed on the NHS.”