Edinburgh Playhouse – until 21 May 2016
Guest reviewer: Susan Lowes
They say you should never work with animals or children. The touring production of Annie proves that, boy, were they wrong.
Originally opening in Broadway in 1977, Annie has been a firm favourite in drama clubs and school productions across many countries. You can see why – the tale of little Orphan Annie, based on Harold Gray’s 1924 comic strip of the same name – features a mixed cast of both adults and children, but is led by a red-haired 11 year old.
Set during the Depression in the 1930s, Annie is left at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage by her parents, alongside a note telling her that they will be back. There she has a hard and miserable life but lives in hope of one day finding her parents. Her life changes forever when she is chosen to spend Christmas with local billionaire, Oliver Warbucks.
It’s a classic underdog tale of loss, hope and optimism. The Annie we’ve always known is a slightly annoying, cheesy production that is admittedly accompanied by award-winning emotional songs. And yes, that’s what this touring production delivers. But importantly that’s not all that is delivered. This Annie is nothing short of spectacular.
Any doubts about this are washed away during the second song Hard Knock Life. Annie (played on opening night by the exceptionally talented Madeleine Haynes) and her band of orphans absolutely knock the ball out of the park in a powerhouse performance. They’re impassioned, they’re determined and they hook your attention from the beginning. Firm favourites have to be Rosanna Beacock as cute and loveable little Molly and Kya Davis as the cranky Pepper – but in truth, not a single one of them puts a foot wrong. Even Amber, the two year old Labradoodle playing Sandy excells.
Haynes has a powerful voice as she belts out song after song – but she’s not playing that slightly annoying Annie character. Her Annie is inspiring and dynamic – a true fighter determined to find her place. You really do get the sense that Haynes’ Annie definitely Won’t Be An Orphan For Long.
In fact, even the scene where this little lady inspires President Roosevelt (Callum McArdle) and his cabinet doesn’t make you cringe with its cheesiness.
Just when you think the casting couldn’t get any better, out comes Elaine C. Smith. Best-known for her role as Mary Doll in Rab C. Nesbitt, Smith here is a wonderful mixture of horrifying slave-driver, stumbling drunk and comedic swine.
Alex Bourne plays an accessible and commanding Daddy Warbucks; a much less sinister and more endearing version of the billionaire hero than previously seen. Accompanied by Holly Dale Spencer as his assistant, Grace Farrell, they are the perfect replacement family. The Warbucks Mansions almost becomes synonymous with fun, swing and jazz-hands. What’s not to love?
passion and drive
There’s so much to celebrate in this production, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes it good enough to warm just about any heart. The secret though, lies somewhere within Nick Winston’s choreography and Nikolai Foster’s direction. This production has style. The passion and drive in the direction are clear and that’s translated in every actor’s movement.
Tne cast of Annie, finale. Photo: Paul Coltas
The choreography on stage is so slick, the cast are extremely well rehearsed but they’re also very fluid and natural. Any production that has an orphan throw a wrapped Christmas present in the air, for a dancer to seamlessly flick with their feet, for the orphan to catch it again gets my seal of approval.
It really feels as though you’re seeing something magical – and I haven’t even mentioned Colin Richmond’s staging that is both statically always the same and yet completely different in each scene.
Echoes back to the 1982 film or your school’s drama production are long forgotten. This production’s magic keeps you spellbound right through to the very end – where, on opening night, it fully deserved it’s standing ovation.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Monday 16 – Saturday 21 May 2016
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinees Weds, Sat: 2.30pm.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/annie/edinburgh-playhouse/
Annie website: http://anniethemusicaltour.uk/
Annie on Twitter: @AnnieTourUK
Annie on tour:
Mon 16 – Sat 21 May
0844 871 3014
Mon 23 – Sat 28 May
The Marlowe Theatre
Mon 30 May – Sat 4 June
Milton Keynes Theatre