Review: Annie at New Wimbledon Theatre

Review: Annie at New Wimbledon Theatre

By Jenny Booth

Five stars

This famous production of Annie is the perfect feel-good, family show to put in you in the mood for Christmas. It is an American fairytale, that transports you to Depression-era New York, where a gang of boisterous girl orphans suffer a ‘hard-knock life’, overworked and neglected by the drunken orphanage mistress Miss Hannigan. Out on the streets, penniless, desperate people dine on scraps in the homeless encampments known as ‘Hoovervilles’, while tough cops keep the peace with nightsticks.

Against this grinding backdrop the irrepressible optimism and homespun wisdom of orphan Annie with her songs of hope – ‘The sun will come out tomorrow’, ‘Maybe’ – shine like a silver dollar in the mud. Before long Annie’s boundless positivity is spotted and rewarded, as she is plucked out of the orphanage and offered a life of extreme riches in the Fifth Avenue mansion of gruff billionaire Oliver Warbucks. And in the lap of luxury she seems set to remain, cossetted by Mr Warbucks’s resourceful secretary Grace and his loyal staff, until Miss Hannigan’s shady and conniving brother Rooster and his floozy Lily hatch a plot to enrich themselves at Annie’s expense. (This fairytale has the peculiarly American twist that the vicious villains are poor, while the warm-hearted heroes are rich.)

The plot is fully of delightful absurdities that the production gleefully makes the most of, like the scene where Annie visits the White House and inspires President Roosevelt not to be so pessimistic and to come up with the New Deal (‘We’ll get a New Deal for Christmas’). The dance scenes exude the luxurious élan of a classic Hollywood studio musical, particularly in the ensemble numbers at the Warbucks mansion which are danced with flawless grace. Director Nikolai Foster portrays both the glittering finest and the dark underbelly of NYC, achieving an admirable balance of dark and light, sweet and bitter. The elegance of the Warbucks scenes strikingly contrasts with the louche, decadent posturing of Miss Hannigan, Rooster and Lily in the menacing razzmatazz of ‘Easy Street’.

Craig Revel Horwood (Strictly Come Dancing) is magnetic as Miss Hannigan, the role he has made his own on and off for nearly a decade now, but he is surrounded by performances that are equally strong, from Alex Bourne who reveals the sentimental side of Warbucks, and Amelia Adams who is scintillating as Grace, to Harlie Bartram who played Annie with total aplomb on review night (the other Annies are Zoe Akinyosade and Sharangi Gnanavarathan). Paul French and Billie-Kay snarl and titter as the hateful Rooster and Lily, David Burrows blusters cheerfully as Roosevelt, and there are no weak links anywhere in the ensemble cast. Nick Winston’s choreography still looks amazing, Ben Cracknell’s versatile lighting design enhances the atmosphere, and if I had a criticism it is merely that there is no apparent reason why Colin Richmond’s set is made up of large, luminous jigsaw pieces. 

Annie is playing at New Wimbledon Theatre until 11 November. Tickets still available. BOOK HERE

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