Mar 22 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆     Cheerful

Playhouse: Tue 21 – Sat 25 Mar 2023
Review by Hugh Simspon.

A relentlessly upbeat feel to the touring revival of the West End production of Annie, at the Playhouse to Saturday, is the source of considerable charm.

There is a timelessness to the 1977 musical (book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charmin). Based on a 1920s cartoon, it continues to fascinate with its imagined version of Depression-era USA, with a cute kid and a cute dog ranged against the not-particularly-scary forces of oppression in their attempt to find a family and a home.

The kids cast in Annie.

There is so much here that is crowd-pleasing; familiar numbers, huge sets flying on and off, and a huge ensemble strutting their stuff to the live band. In short, everything you would hope for in a big-budget touring musical.

However, it is not all plain sailing. Those sets (by Colin Richmond), particularly a puzzling jigsaw-themed effort, often impress in their own right, rather than complementing the action. The music tends to the strident, which together with some exaggerated New York accents, causes the words to be lost.


The choreography of Nick Winston, meanwhile, also screams New York, with its jarringly jerky movements showcasing the talents of an impressive group of child actors but not always doing the adults the same favours.

It is all so primary-coloured and eager to please that it approaches the saccharine and even the twee.

Paul O’Grady as Miss Hannigan in Annie. Pic:

A corrective to this should come in the form of the production’s biggest name, Paul O’Grady, returning to the role of orphanage director Miss Hannigan. (Elsewhere on the tour, the role is also played by Craig Revel Horwood, Elaine C Smith, and Jodie Prenger). O’Grady’s time-honoured cynical persona, suggesting everything he is asked to do is a mile beneath his dignity, makes for an agreeable presence, even if the accent often fails to get much over the Atlantic from Birkenhead.

The knowing nature of the characterisation, however, while an understandable hit with the audience, fails to provide much jeopardy as Miss Hannigan never really comes across as evil. It is left to the excellent Paul French and Billie-Kay, as Miss Hannigan’s brother Rooster and his partner in crime Lily, to add some much-needed danger.

believability and emotion

David Burrows (standing in for Alex Bourne) as Daddy Warbucks, supplies believability and emotion, which can also be said of Amelia Adams as his secretary Grace Farrell.

Paul O’Grady (Miss Hannigan) with Paul French (Rooster) and Billie-KayLily) in Annie. Pic:

There is no shortage of skill or energy in the ensemble, but director Nikolai Foster’s approach is notably lacking in light and shade.

No criticism can be levelled at the revolving cast of younger performers, who are uniformly excellent. It’s The Hard Knock Life is every bit as good as you would hope, while their reprise of You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile overshadows the preceding grown-ups’ version – which has to be done with an element of cheese but needs a little more heart than it gets here, otherwise (like much else) it ends up as cartoonish.

cheery, cheeky persona

Harlie Barthram (one of the three to share the role of Annie) has got the cheery, cheeky persona nailed without ever going over the top. She does, of course, belt out Tomorrow, but gives the song the degree of delicacy and respect that it deserves but rarely gets.

Even she, however, is in danger of being upstaged by the canine performer. The use of the dog – who at one point trots across the stage for no apparent reason other than to provoke an audience reaction – is symbolic of a production that has real attractiveness, if little depth.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
Tue 21 – Sat 25 March 2023
Tue – Sat: 7.30pm; Wed, Thurs, Sat mats: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

A scene from Annie.


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