There’s no business like show business

Ken Radmore (Chief Sitting Bull), Ian Simpson (Pawnee Bill), Paul Holland (Col William F. Cody) and Ray Atkinson (Charlie Davenport) in Annie Get Your Gun at The Bolsover School.
Ken Radmore (Chief Sitting Bull), Ian Simpson (Pawnee Bill), Paul Holland (Col William F. Cody) and Ray Atkinson (Charlie Davenport) in Annie Get Your Gun at The Bolsover School.

October is an appropriate month for north Derbyshire residents to honour Wild West heroes.

Roll back the years more than a century and you’ll discover that the greatest show on earth at that time visited our patch.

Eagle-eyed hotshots, born-in-the-saddle cowboys and dancing squaws descended on the Queen’s Park area of Chesterfield to perform in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1903. Legend has it that one of the Indians died there, was buried in Boythorpe and that his horse-riding ghost can still be seen galloping along the cemetery boundary to this day.

What’s not so clear is whether Buffalo Blll’s travelling show ever passed through Bolsover en route to the home of the Crooked Spire. Not that that’s going to stop the castle town’s thespians from making a song and dance, which they do plenty of in this week’s show at The Bolsover School.

Annie Get Your Gun is a root in’ tootin’ shoot ‘em up show that’ll have you jumping in your seat, whether it be the 30 ear-splitting rifle shots or the well-known songs such as Doin’ What Comes Natu’rlly and There’s No Business Like Showbusiness.

Bolsover Drama Group have blown plenty of big bucks on the costumes, especially in the high society ball scene where the ladies wear elegant gowns and the men scrub up well in dinner suits.

Leanne Whitehouse plays real-life legend Annie Oakley, the Little Miss Sureshot whose gun skills saved her family from destitution, brought her worldwide fame and bagged her a husband.

This is the cutest Annie you ever did see - from her ragamuffin buckskin outfit to the glamorous showgirl costume in which she flashes her pins. Leanne delivers Annie’s wisecracks with all the accuracy of hitting the bulls-eye, or in this case, shooting a bird off a woman’s hat. As a singer, Leanne’s forte is the slower numbers like the heart-melting Moonshine Lullaby which she sings to the oh-so cute kids who play Annie’s sisters and brother.

Her opposite number Nicky Constable rises to the challenge of his first serious part in a show. He plays the sharp-shooting champion of the world, Frank Butler, giving it plenty of swagger and bravado. Vocally, he’s at his best in slow numbers like his signature tune The Girl That I Marry.

It’s a lively production with colourful characters immortalised by Paul Holland, unrecognisable in his wig and beard as show master Col William F. Cody, Ian Simpson as rival showman Pawnee Bill, Donna Knowles as the meddling Dolly Tate and Ken Radmore as Chief Sitting Bull.

James Sheppard and Hannah Bradford, playing sweethearts Tommy Keeler and Winnie Tate, rise to the challenge of their first big roles in a musical.

This show is a swansong for Bolsover Drama Group veteran Ray Atkinson, who has been with the group for 23 years and is moving to Cornwall. He plays showman Charlie Davenport and gets the honour of singing the first song in the show, Buffalo Bill. It was a pity that there weren’t more than 30 people watching him at the show’s launch night on Wednesday, October 3.

Annie Get Your Gun continues at The Bolsover School until October 6, with performances at 7.15pm and a Saturday matinee at 2pm.

GAY BOLTON