Annie – Review – Hull New Theatre

Annie – Review – Bradford Alhambra Theatre (3)

By Rachel Howard, October 2023

As the Hull New Theatre auditorium starts to fill up on this dank and miserable Monday evening, I’m a little surprised that such a long-running show can still pull in such a crowd.

Annie, based on a 1924 comic strip, originally opened as a musical on Broadway in 1977, and has been entertaining audiences, both on stage and screen, ever since. There can’t be many people who aren’t familiar with the flame-haired, feisty foundling and her rags-to-riches story.

But here we are, almost 100 years on from that original comic strip, and we have a full house excitedly ready to welcome the cast to the stage. Two of the most excited have to be my partner’s two children, Poppy (11) and Dolly (9). They both know the story of Annie – Poppy has even performed in an am-dram version herself, so they know they’re in for a treat. And we’re excited to see it through their eyes.

As we take our seats, it’s nice to be greeted with an open stage – not just the curtain. We can see the New York orphanage that is home to Annie and her friends. Wrought iron beds, very few home comforts – it really gives off the atmosphere of a cold, unwelcoming environment. I can tell from this scene alone that the show is going to be one of quality. Touring-show scenery can either make or break a production, and this one is top notch. Not a wobble in sight! The scenery, lighting, sound and wardrobe are West End level – not to mention the cast…

Tonight, Annie is being played by the supremely talented 9-year-old Zoe Akinyosade. Right from the get-go, Zoe encompasses all of Annie’s infamous traits. She’s sassy, ballsy and beautifully vulnerable. Although she loves her friends in the orphanage, Annie has a deeply held dream that her parents will come to find her – rescuing her from the evil clutches of the orphanage keeper, Miss Hannigan.

Annie – Review – Bradford Alhambra Theatre (1)

“A joy to watch”

Enter centre-stage Craig Revel Horwood (Strictly Come Dancing judge and choreographer extraordinaire). I am intrigued to see what he will bring to this role, and within seconds I am reassured that he was born for it. Miss Hannigan is a drunken floozy of a character, with no genuine concern for the children, only money. Revel Horwood stumbles across the stage, portraying the character to perfection. The broad New York accent does falter at times but I won’t hold that against him. He’s comedic, flamboyant and brash, but also has a surprisingly good singing voice, and dances around the stage as expertly as you would expect.

Becoming frustrated with no sign of her parents, Annie decides to run away from the orphanage in order to find them herself. Time on the mean streets of New York follow, where she befriends Sandy the dog, played by Amber – a beautifully well behaved and trained pup who steals the show numerous times. They say not to work with animals or children – but in this case it works fantastically!

As all good fairytales go, there is of course a light at the end of Annie’s tunnel… in the shape of billionaire businessman Oliver Warbucks. Annie is the chosen one, specially selected to spend the two-week Christmas period with Warbucks and his staff at his fancy 5th Avenue home.

Alex Bourne commands the stage brilliantly as Warbucks – he’s actually one of my favourites of the night. His character progression from self-centred businessman to soft, sensitive father figure is a joy to watch. His West End experience really shines through and I find myself rooting for a happy ending for him and Annie.

The happy ending is, of course, not easy come by. After a magical two weeks, Warbucks realises he wants to adopt Annie, but is saddened to realise she is still hoping to find her parents. Willing to do anything to make her happy, he launches a countrywide search for them – offering up a reward of $50,000. Unfortunately, the money attracts all manner of reprobates, including Miss Hannigan’s money-hungry brother, Rooster (Paul French), and his ‘broad’ Lily (Billie-Kay). Both actors shine as the dodgy duo, providing audience laughs, some sexy flirtation and a show stopping number (‘Easy Street’), alongside Miss Hannigan.

Annie – Review – Bradford Alhambra Theatre (2)

“Never seems to get old”

Warbucks is even able to use his stature and power to get Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President of the United States, in to help in the search. David Burrows plays the wheelchair-bound President with aplomb. Comedy and sensitivity converge to make a really loveable and watchable character.

With Annie being such a well-known story, I don’t think it’s giving the game away to say that, having eventually learned of her parents’ deaths, Annie decides to take up Warbucks’ offer – making him “Daddy” Warbucks and her the happiest little girl in New York.

I wish I had room to name check everyone on stage, as the full cast provides an evening of top-class entertainment. The children in particular are astoundingly talented. The opening number of ‘Hard Knock Life’ is slick, polished and powerful. And of course, the song synonymous with the musical, ‘Tomorrow’, is belted out numerous times – firstly as a solo by Annie, secondly around the President’s board room desk, and finally by the full company as the finale.

By this point we are all on our feet, applauding a show that, much like its lead character, never seems to get old. As we leave the theatre, I ask the girls what some of their favourite parts were… Sandy the dog, Miss Hannigan’s New York-style growl, and the part where she flashes her knickers were clearly winners! So Craig, if you’re reading this, we’ll give you a 10/10 – Fab-u-lous!

‘Annie’ is at Hull New Theatre until 28th October


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