SHE shoots pistols and rifles, walks on stilts, juggles and can hold her own against any man.
Annie Oakley was a prototype 19th century feminist and Irving Berlin’s classic musical Annie Get Your Gun tells the story of her rivalry and romance with fellow sharpshooter Frank Butler in Buffalo Bill’s wild west show.
Emma Williams, twice-nominated for the Oliviers, is the latest person to take on the Annie role – and confesses she’s a bit more “girly” than the sharpshooter she’s portraying on stage.
“We do look very similar but I’m a girlie girl in most respects,” she laughs. “I’m the sort of girl who wears dresses and heels, which have currently been packed to the back of my wardrobe for the next six months while on tour in this show. I’m in jeans and boots every day during rehearsals to try to roughen up my posture.”
The real-life Annie was also said to be incredibly beautiful and the audience is wowed to see her transition from cowgirl to stunning beauty in a gown – a scene which Emma loves. However, she adds: “She’s in this phenomenal gown but essentially she’s still the same person. You can paint her face, polish her nails, brush her hair, but underneath everything is still Annie.”
She’s also learning to love the tougher side of her character. “I have an array of weaponry in the show – rifles, pistols – and I’m having a whale of a time playing with them,” she says. “Although, I don’t know if I’d trust myself with any real ammo.”
Emma says she aims to be “more ripped than I’ve ever been at the end of this tour. It’s all part of maintaining a show like this, being physically strong.”
A MENSA member, she’s proving adept at the physical side of the role, explaining: “I’m doing a lot of circus training at the moment – stilt walking, juggling. We’ve got a trapeze as well. Annie was a real trick shot. She used to shoot over her shoulder using a mirror and she could hit things without looking.
Buffalo Bill decides that having a girl who can shoot fantastically and looks great, which was rare in those times, should be their star attraction. “She does this amazing trick and unfortunately it’s the one thing that may make her lose Frank, the love of her life, when she thinks it’s going to be the one thing that will make him fall at her feet.”
So, can she win him back? “Like every good love story, boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, girl loses boy, girl decides to shoot something,” she laughs. “Annie is feisty and strong and is not prepared to be told that she is just a little girl. She’s not cocky, just confident, and she doesn’t understand why she has to hide that.”
Emma is playing opposite West End star and pop legend Jason Donovan (who plays Frank) and is loving every minute. “The characters have a special kind of chemistry,” she says. “We’ve been having an absolute blast. On the first day of rehearsals we were doing a song from the show called They Say That Falling In Love Is Wonderful. It’s a duet. It’s glorious. There’s this amazing swell in the music, then the director said ‘This is where you kiss’…
“We started the song, the swell of music happened, and he kissed me. Bear in mind I’ve known him for four hours at this point and I’m thinking ‘Jason Donovan is kissing me’! I was supposed to come back in but I forgot what I was meant to say. Getting to work with someone who is as lovely as Jason is an absolute privilege and pleasure.”
Annie Get Your Gun starring Emma Williams, Jason Donovan and Norman Pace (as Buffalo Bill) will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Tuesday (August 12) until Saturday, August 16.