Annie – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Book: Thomas Meehan

Director: Nikolai Foster

Choregrapher: Nick Winston

Reviewer: Dan English

Craig Revel Horwood’s menacing and hilariously cruel depiction of the villainous Miss Hannigan steals the show as Anniereaches Dartford’s Orchard Theatre as part of its UK tour.

The Strictly Come Dancing judge and accomplished choreographer, continuing his hugely successful foray into musical theatre, leads a hard-working cast as it presents the long-popular musical centred around the eponymous Annie, desperate to escape her orphanage, and delighted when offered a chance at escape by Oliver ‘Daddy’ Warbucks. Yet as jealous Hannigan’s plan unfolds, Annie’s opportunity for a happy ever after outside the orphanage looks doomed as schemes are put in place to jeopardise her happiness.

The production’s young cast shine through the performance, right from the opening number, although ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ is easily one of the piece’s standout moments. Annie and her fellow orphanage members work hard to create genuinely likeable characters, but the emotional vulnerability of the orphans is created with aplomb. The sheer effort and determination of the group is breathtaking, and it is hard to believe that these young stars are still in the formative years of their theatre careers.

Horwood’s Miss Hannigan is crafted well, and, although it takes a while for the role to warm up, Horwood’s delivery of the desperate drunk is genuinely amusing. As well as being able to move with ease, Horwood’s ability to hold a range of notes is tested throughout the production, and it’s a test that he comes through largely unscathed.

One of the aspects of Annie that leaves a lasting impression is the genuinely sweet and moving forging of the bond between Annie and Warbucks (Alex Bourne). Bourne successfully balances Warbucks’ capitalist driven billionaire with the fragility of a man searching for a family of his own, and Bourne’s delivery succeeds in evoking a wide range of emotional responses. The subtleties of Bourne’s performance is clear when facing the possibility that Annie would rather live with her biological parents – his character’s pain, although silent, is all too evident.

An honourable mention must go to Richard Meek for his larger than life portrayal of Hannigan’s brother, the conniving conman Rooster. Meek’s introduction, at the end of Act 1, breathes fresh air into a half beginning to stagnate, with Meek and Horwood combining well to set up the menace and trouble that unfolds.

Greeted by an arresting and sterile orphanage upon arrival, it’s clear from the very beginning that Colin Richmond’s set design sets the tone for the bleak and unforgiving lifestyle Annie leads. As the audience arrives, President Roosevelt’s speeches during the Great Depression are heard, and it’s a depression that impacts even the smallest of society. In addition, the sinister symmetry of the beds mirror an institute rather than a place for small children, catapulting patrons into this harsh environment before the piece has even begun.

Anniecontinues to be a heartwarming and uplifting performance that ticks on heartstrings and feels tireless, despite being comfortably in its fourth decade. With guest casting and dynamic ensemble groups continuing to deliver an enjoyable production, it’s hard to see this musical ever slowing down. It’s certainly no hard knock life watching Horwood and co. in this revival.

Runs until 22June 2019, then continues tour.

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