Oct 4 2019 | By More

★★★☆☆      Optimistic

Edinburgh Playhouse: Mon 30 Sept – Sat 5 Oct 2019
Review by Thom Dibdin

The sun, as always, is coming out tomorrow in Annie, but in this touring production at the Playhouse to Saturday, the orphan’s optimism is more dearly bought than it might be.

This is an Annie for troubled times, one which has to cope with the fact that neither the upbeat ending nor FDR’s vision of a New Deal have as much resonance as once they did – either when Meehan, Strouse and Charnin first wrote it in 1977, or when this revival was first staged in 2011.

Lesley Joseph as Miss Hannigan. Pic: Annie The Musical

There is, however, much to sing and dance about in a production that has plenty of musical theatre chops. And that starts with Ava Smith, one of three youngsters playing the title role in rotation.

Smith is a vital spark of a young performer. In the vile 1930s New York orphanage she is endearing without being too sweet – and an assured mother figure to the other orphans. Importantly, she has a real sense of the naive which lends a reality to her brush with the impoverished inhabitants of Hooverville when she runs away.

strong and coherent

When Annie is given the opportunity to spend Christmas at billionaire Warbucks’ mansion, Smith can kick up a leg when called on in the dance routines. But right from the get go, she has a fine voice – able to belt out a note on occasion, but also finding a winsome quality for her big numbers, Maybe and Tomorrow.

Annie is given fine support from her six fellow orphans. Each youngster creates and develops a character, while still working as part of a strong and coherent ensemble.

A scene in the orphanage. Pic: Annie The Musical

However, it is in the orphanage scenes that this production founders. Partly because Colin Richmond’s design is so crowded in the opening dormitory scenes that the performers become lost in it; but mostly from Lesley Joseph’s confusing portrayal of the orphanage matron Miss Hannigan.

Hannigan is one of the great musical theatre villains. Child-hating and alcoholic she makes her charges get up at all hours to clean the orphanage and exploits them in a sewing sweatshop – pocketing the proceeds.

A gin-addled louse

Joseph is simply not villainous enough in this utter peach of a role. There is no sense of menace to her creation of a Hannigan who seems to be vile by neglect not by positive action. Sure, she’s a gin-addled louse, but there is no bite there.

The generous might say that director Nikolai Foster is allowing her to find redemption for the character – which would certainly be in keeping with the show’s general assessment of the poor as victims of circumstance.

Lesley Joseph as Miss Hannigan. Pic: Annie The Musical

But then when Hannigan’s brother Rooster (the excellent Richard Meek) and his latest gal Lily (Jenny Gayner) suggest that his scheme to con Warbucks out of $50,000 by pretending to be Annie’s long-lost parents will end in cutting Annie’s throat, Joseph’s Hannigan has not problem in proceeding in her amble along Easy Street with them.

There is a lot more snap and pizzaz elsewhere. The adult cast take to their triple tasks as Hooverville residents, Roosevelt’s cabinet and, in particular, Warbucks’ staff, with a real sense of purpose and understanding.

Carolyn Maitland puts in an excellent shift as Warbucks’ secretary, Grace Farrell, hinting with great subtlety that there is more to their relationship than he realises. Alex Bourne’s Warbucks has just the right hint of aloofness which it brought crashing down by Annie’s charm.

pure entertainment

As pure entertainment goes, Annie still serves well – not forgetting the loveable hound, Sandy, who Annie saves from the dog pound – and will enchant the whole family.

Annie’s underlying bedrock of social comment still makes it more than a piece of fluff, too. Even though the message of pulling together and unifying to help each other out of poverty and division, seems a distant dream, such optimism is needed more than ever.

Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Monday 30 September – Saturday 5 October 2019
Daily: 7.30pm; Matinees Weds, Sat: 2.30pm.
Full details and tickets Book Here.

Annie on tour 2019:
30 Sep – 5 Oct 2019 Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
7 – 12 Oct 2019 Sunderland
Sunderland Empire
0844 871 3022 Book online
14 – 19 October 2019 Canterbury
The Marlowe Theatre
01227 787787 Book online
22 – 26 October 2019 Crawley
The Hawth
01293 553636 Book online
29 Oct – 2 Nov 2019 Belfast
Grand Opera House
02890 241919 Book online
4 – 9 November 2019 Ipswich
Regent Theatre
01473 433100 Book online
11 – 16 Nov 2019 Wimbledon
New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646 Book online
18 – 23 Nov 2019 Stoke-on-Trent
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649 Book online


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.