Friday, 30 June 2017

Annie

Miranda Hart gets the chance to fulfill her dream of taking to the stage in Annie at the West End

Written by Richard Barber


It’s 40 years since Annie, the musical based on Harold Gray’s comic strip, little orphan Annie, with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan, first opened on Broadway. There have been many productions since, and a hit film starring Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks and Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan. Now it’s being revived in the West End as a star vehicle for the widely liked comedian and actress, Miranda Hart. Said to be the fulfillment of her long- held dream, this Richard-Barber-colour-176incarnation is a mix of the genuinely touching crossed with the teeth-achingly cute. And it’s also beginning to show its age, in terms of what is acceptable to a modern audience.

All right, it’s only a story. But you’d have some trouble getting the tale of a middle-aged billionaire effectively falling in love with an 11-year-old girl past the PC brigade any time now. The fact that we put our misgivings on the back burner says much for the performance of Alex Bourne as Warbucks who, along with his right-hand woman, Grace (a lovely performance from Holly Dale Spencer), act as the evening’s twin anchors. Bourne gives his character real depth and his is a voice that carries to the back of the auditorium without resorting to shouting.

Which is rather more than you can say for the children, truth to tell. There’s either something wrong with the sound balance or they’ve been instructed by director Nikolai Foster to shriek their lyrics to a pitch and a point where you can’t understand what they’re saying. And the songs are rather good – It’s the Hard Knock Life, for instance, is a belter.

Elsewhere, Jonny Fines makes his mark as Miss Hannigan’s no-good brother rooster, abetted by his floozy Lily (Djalenga Scott). And there’s a dog, Sandy (real name Amber), who would bring a tear to a glass eye.

Three young actresses take it in turn to play Annie. I saw Madeleine Haynes and very good she was, too, with just the right mix of pluck and poignancy although, again, if she would only sing a little more sotto voce, we’d be able to hear the lyrics. And what of Miranda? I’d give her a B+. She has funny bones, can’t sing for toffee and is obviously having a good time. But, try as she might, she never really convinces as a harridan and accomplice to abduction and possible murder. She’s just too nice – which is why, of course, we love her in the first place.

Until January at the Piccadilly Theatre, London W1 but Miranda Hart leaves in September: 0844-871 7630, www.piccadillytheatre.org 



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