Anna-Jane Casey: 'Annie Oakley was the Lady Gaga of her time'

The musical theatre legend talks Sheffield, Donald Trump and still getting nervous after 30 years in theatre

Anna Jane Casey in rehearsals for Annie Get Your Gun
Anna Jane Casey in rehearsals for Annie Get Your Gun
© Johan Persson

Having made her West End debut in Cats at the age of 16, Anna-Jane Casey's professional stage career is on the cusp of spanning three decades. Casey's other West End credits include Grease, Chicago and Billy Elliott.

This Christmas she returns to for her fifth production at the Sheffield Crucible to star as Annie Oakley in Paul Foster's production of Annie Get Your Gun.

How are rehearsals going?

Yeah, it’s alright. My nearly 45-year-old body is holding up quite well against the ensemble. I’m old enough to be everyone’s mother on stage, aside from about three people, but it’s fine, I’m loving it. I wouldn’t have it any other way to be honest, if I was sitting on my arse I’d be bored!

What was it that appealed to you about returning to Sheffield?

I would come and work at Sheffield as the cleaner! I think it’s the greatest theatre we have in this whole country, and I’ve seen a few. The whole ethos around the Crucible is amazing, everybody works so hard – whether that’s the crew, the management, the cleaner, the people in the box office – it’s the most brilliant place. This is my fifth time here and it’s 13 years since I first worked here. Seriously, I’d come and empty the bins in this theatre, it’s brilliant.

And specifically Annie Get Your Gun?

Daniel Evans rang me and said [in AJ’s finest Welsh accent] "Love, would you like to come back to Sheffield?" I was like "as a cleaner? Yes!" It’s just a bonus that I happen to be playing Annie Oakley who, the more I read up on her, is one of the most brilliant women that ever walked this planet.

How so?

When you read into her back-story, she was literally like one of the original feminists. She was remarkable. She was married to this man for 50 years, they went to the government together and they said they’d like to instigate a program in which they help women learn to shoot. They wanted women to be on an equal level with men. This is the late 1800s going into the early 1910s and it’s not really talked about. She was the Lady Gaga of her time.

Have you done lots of research for the role?

Paul Foster, our director, is literally the most intelligent man on the planet. He’s so well read and he's been feeding me these nuggets of information he’s found, I’m like a hungry child. It’s just amazing to discover more about her life and the lives of those around her. These were real people and to find out about their lives is intriguing. They changed the face of interracial relationships, they had native Americans and Americans on stage together, which at that time was massively frowned upon – look at the state of North Dakota now, they’re still trying to fight those poor people.

So would you say the story is still relevant today?

Completely. I mean, blimey, I don’t really want to talk about orange monkey face boy who’s going to allegedly try and lead the western world, but rehearsing for a show about a woman stepping forward and a man holding her hand, and not being a git about it… To wake up and realise that a woman who was brilliantly qualified – whatever you think of her – didn’t win the race and they gave it to someone who is just a joke face, that was very hard for us all.

But despite the timeless nature of the show, it’s not done regularly…

No it’s not. Even though if you look at the list of songs you’ll go ‘I know that one, and that one, and that one’, it’s something that’s not done very often, and we can’t figure it out. But in a way it’s a blessing for us because it’s not shoved down everyone’s throats, it’s not on tour every year starring some girl who was on the X Factor.

How is Sheffield post-Daniel Evans?

People were understandably worried when Daniel said he was leaving. I wouldn’t like to have been Robert Hastie, I would have been terrified. Like when Obama became president and he was like ‘yay’, and then you could see on his face that he was thinking ‘shit, I’ve got to do that job now.’ That’s exactly Robert Hastie’s face. But he’s a gorgeous fella, on our first day he did say that he was stepping into the giant shoes of the five foot seven Daniel Evans!

Do you still get nervous?

Oh, terrified. There’s a great graph that comes up on Facebook every now and then, it shows how at one point you can be like ‘this is the most fantastic thing ever’ and then it plunges dramatically and you’re like ‘ I’m awful, this is awful, I need to leave and work in Tescos.’ Then it climbs back up again to the ‘this is the best show ever.’ Last week , we were half way through the rehearsal period and I was at the ‘I’m shit, I’m going to work in Tescos’ dip. I was waking up at 4am in the morning and everything, but now we're about to open and there's no time for that anymore.

Do you have a role in mind that you’d like to play?

I’m just happy when the phone rings, that sounds like bullshit but it's not. I’m happy that people want to see me for things, because at the end of the day I’m a market trader’s daughter from Lancashire and when I stand on a stage, whether it’s the Royal Albert Hall or the St James Theatre, I can’t believe I’m there. So as far as other roles, just give me a call, I’ll do it.

How about gender-blind casting? Is that something you’d like to explore?

Oooh yeah! I’d rip someone’s arm off to play Judas. I’d love to sing "Jeeeesuuuus". They should do that, they should flip it. Also, do you know what would be nice? You know they’ve cast Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins in Carousel? They should flip it, she should be Billy Bigelow, come on Katherine!

Annie Get Your Gun runs at the Crucible, Sheffield until 21 January 2017.