TALES of Wild Western women have fascinated writers, film-makers and composers over the years, and while many have heard of Annie Oakley, most of us are more familiar with the escapades of Calamity Jane.
That could all change with the new show Little Sure Shot, created for West Yorkshire Playhouse, Bath egg, MAC Belfast and Theatre Iolo and telling the story of the early life of the sharp shooter who rose to international fame in Buffalo Bill’s touring shows.
It was written and composed by fiddler, singer and actor Lucy Rivers, directed by Amy Leach, and to complete the female creative trio, designed by Hayley Grindle.
Little Sure Shot begins its national tour at the egg, the dedicated young person’s venue attached to the Theatre Royal, where it plays until Easter Saturday. It is aimed at an audience aged seven years and older, but it’s a show that will delight all ages, from those brought up on black-and-white television Westerns to youngsters impressed by the determination of Elsa and Anna.
Dirt poor, the Moses family faced a hungry, cold winter. Pa taught his daughter Annie to hunt, allowing her to watch him load his rifle, and to hold the heavy firearm. At the same time he told her that Quakers only shot what they needed to eat, and that guns were lethal weapons to be treated with the greatest care and respect.
But her mother didn’t approve of girls with guns, and before long little Annie was sent to a poorhouse, and on to work for a sanctimonious and cruel couple.
She escaped, meeting a kind man on a train who inspired her choice of stage name – Annie Oakley. Her prowess with the gun, and her hard work eventually took the family out of penury, but by then Annie had met and married Frank Butler, a sharp shooter, and discovered a taste for the spotlight.
Lucy Rivers’ clever musical retelling is full of excitement, romance and poignancy, performed by five versatile singing, acting musicians with all the yee-ha and determination needed. There is broad comedy, trick shooting, singable songs and finely drawn characterisations, transporting the audience back into the days when Annie Oakley rode the range.
Recent drama school graduate Verity Kirk takes the title role – the name given to Annie by Chief Sitting Bull, with Paksie Vernon as Ma and George the Poodle (a big hit with the younger audience.)
David Leopold is the lovelorn Frank, with Andy Clark as a touching Pa and Andrew Whitehead the charismatic Buffalo Bill and the thoroughly nasty Mrs Wolf.
Between them they play guitar, banjo, bass, washboard, mandolin, violin and harmonica in this fast and furious romp through American frontier history, on a clever set.
Little Sure Shot is a delight, and richly deserves a long life on the road.
Photographs by Farrows Creative