Charlie McCullagh stars Frank Butler, in a new revival of Annie Get Your Gun, the first production in the new open air Lavender Theatre.

Hi Charlie, what can audiences expect from this revival of Annie Get Your Gun? Annie Get Your Gun has stood the test of time thanks to its iconic score and vibrant characters. This Golden Age Broadway musical will be seen in a new light at the Lavender Theatre. Our revival is not only outdoors but is staged to allow audiences to fully immerse themselves in the world of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Our director, Simon Lee Hardwick, has utilised creative practical effects and a talented company to bring the raw and visceral energy of a travelling Wild West show to life. It’s easy to spend the day in Mayfield Lavender’s beautiful location, having picnics in the fields and enjoying the scenery before catching Buffalo Bill’s retelling of Annie’s rise to fame and relationship with Frank. 

What was it that made you want to be part of this production? I’ve longed to do an open air production ever since seeing Jesus Christ Superstar at Regents Park. The visual memory of Jesus screaming out to the heavens whilst the rain came down and the trees whipped behind him has always stuck with me. There’s something truly special about live theatre and embracing the outdoors gives another element to that. Theatre began in outdoor spaces and I love the idea of returning to that tradition during the summertime.  Annie Get Your Gun is a classic and the opportunity to re-explore that text in 2023 has been such an experience. It’s been fascinating to see which themes still hold true today and finding interesting solutions to elements that have not aged as well. The company is so passionate about this production that the rehearsal period has been thrilling to be a part of and I can’t wait for audiences to experience it. 

How does it feel to be part of the first production to play at the Lavender Theatre? Amazing! I love the idea of new work, of breaking new ground especially as musical theatre is dominated by long running shows. London is the home of the titans of musical theatre! To be a part of a brand new theatre telling a well known story in a new and unique way is an actor’s dream.  To be rehearsing for a space that no one has used before introduces so many variables both thrilling and stressful. SuRie and I were fortunate enough to be told about the plans for the theatre and toured around the location when the foundations were being set. It’s wild to have seen it and been told of its potential and now to be there in that same space, seeing it come to life. 

How would you describe your character Frank? Frank is someone who through hard work has racked up plenty of achievements. The star of Buffalo Bill’s show, a man who knows what he wants and goes out and gets it. With confidence that borders on arrogance because things have come easy to him. He’s young, what he thinks he wants, are what society has told him he should want and it being the late 1800s those are some old-fashioned ideas. However, his life takes a turn when he meets Annie Oakley, a woman, not afraid to challenge him and unwilling to roll over to spare his pride. 

How have you found the experience of working on the production so far? Wild. On one hand, it’s been fast-paced and you’ve gotta keep up and do your homework and on the other, it’s been slow and methodical, breaking down scenes and discussing the impact and focus of each sequence. It’s kept everyone on their toes and been a rewarding experience! The process has brought the company together like a family, a very loud and boisterous family but one filled with love, support and joy. I hope that audiences joining us for the show feel like they become a part of our rowdy Wild West family and are filled with the same joy as we witness Annie’s journey and get lost in Irving Berlin’s score that has been beloved for decades.  

What do you think makes this musical such a classic?  The score made it a classic but it has lasted the test of time because of its characters and themes. Annie Get Your Gun has some of Irving Berlin’s biggest hits and every number in the show is wonderful but at its core, it’s a story about love, acceptance and being yourself that I think has kept it so popular. From Tommy and Winnie’s exciting young love, Frank falling for someone who challenges his old-fashioned and dated views to Annie’s unwavering sense of self and what that can cost. Irving Berlin’s musical score is magical but the beauty of the show is how its leading lady challenges and encourages the shows cast of characters to be accepting of others and true to themselves.  Not to mention the family dynamic of Buffalo Bill’s troupe, phenomenal dance numbers and cracking one liners. This show is still great fun for all the family.

By Emma Clarendon

Annie Get Your Gun will run at the 250-seat open air theatre Lavender Theatre from 17 July –  5 August


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