The story of little orphan Annie is given a fresh relevance through a revamp that takes the edge off the sugar-coated ‘happy ever after’ by playing up the sour notes of poverty.
It‘s 1933 and New York is still reeling from the after-math of the Wall Street Crash and the further devastation caused by the closure of the banks. Millions are left helpless, struggling to cope with homelessness and unemployment. It’s against this bleak backdrop that we meet Annie. Left on the steps of a New York orphanage in 1922 with half a locket and a note expressing love, regret and a promise that Mum and Dad will return for her, Annie still nurtures the hope that one day they will be reunited.
When local billionaire Daddy Warbucks offers Annie an escape from grinding poverty, villainous orphanage guardian Miss Hannigan, her ne’er-do-well brother Rooster and his latest squeeze Lily, almost scupper her chances. In this latest revamp, it’s President Roosevelt who, at Warbuck’s behest, takes a break from such trivialities as saving America from economic disaster and tracking down Al Capone, to put the FBI and all resources at his disposal to help Annie find her fairy-tale ending.
Annie and her six orphanage dorm-mates start the show as they mean to go on. Moving swiftly from the soulful ‘Maybe’ to a ‘Hard Knock Life’ full of punch and grit, the first thing that hits you is what a huge,and impressive,sound seven wee girls can make. You also get a sneaky suspicion that they could run this show without any help from the grown-ups. Good job really, as Elaine C. Smith – magnificent in other roles – is disappointingly a bit lacking in venom and verve as Harrigan the harridan.
Alongside an energetic and confidently accomplished Madeleine Haynes as Annie, Alex Bourne brings warmth and charisma to the role of Warbucks, and Holly Dale Spencer completes the chemistry with a vivacious performance as Warbucks’ assistant Grace. But it’s Jonny Fines as Rooster and Djalenga Scott as Lily who keep the baddies’ end up, giving the forces for good some decent evil to battle against.
It says a lot about the performance of the youngsters, that you really miss them when they’re not around. Kids are known for having a lot of energy, but when you add in real commitment, stage-craft and team-work and top it all off with a whole heap of talent, the adults have to work really hard not to appear jaded by comparison. Happily, this band of youngsters seems to be keeping the big ones on their toes and the audience hanging on their every word.
Runs 16th – 21st May 2016