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Annie

“Where fun flourishes and logic goes to die.”

Contributor:  Roger Hatred

Following hot on the heels of Longridge Towers’ production of ‘Oliver’, Berwick Opera (their name has fewer letters in it every passing year) last week presented ‘Annie’.  Yes folks, The Maltings Theatre and Cinema proudly presented ‘ORPHANFEST!’ with more orphans singing on stage than the Libyan Junior Male Voice Choir.

Facebook has been awash with accolades for this production, currently the talk of the town. “Have you heard the news?” my shoe-shiner informed me on the corner of Marygate and Hide. “Young Katy Curry’s gone and directed herself a play!”

One thing upon which all commentators agree is that the kids were amazing. This is true, and it is always true. Children have this boundless verve and crackling energy on stage which is infectious, translating into a wave of pure joy washing over the audience.

These children were no different. They threw themselves into ‘Hard Knock Life’ as if in possession of the knowledge that Jay-Z himself was about to walk on stage at any moment and bust some rhymes upside our heads. From their ranks, Georgina Faed sparkled in the titular role of Annie, seeming to ooze confidence from every pore. I can’t say enough good things about her. She really did make the production. Annie, as a show, lives and dies on its casting and, in the case of Georgina, Berwick Opera have a real winner.

Louise Wood, in the much coveted role of Miss Hannigan, seemed to have undergone hip replacement surgery because she entered the stage looking as if she had recently dismounted a mechanical bull – what the hell was in that gin bottle? A natural comedian with an amiably mobile face, she seemed an odd choice for the role at first – too warm, too ‘mum’. She overcame this obstacle by sheer force of comic understanding. She also ran the only orphanage in the world that employed a strict make-up policy for its young charges:

PINK LIPSTICK – AND PLENTY OF IT – MUST BE WORN AT ALL TIMES!

With her cunning use of make-up, this time Lucy felt confident the bouncers wouldn't ask for ID.

Both she and Hamish Bell as Rooster – a cartoon wolf brought to life in a pimp-suited human body – strutted and capered with untethered abandon. Alison Fergie completed this three-piece double-act – her job being the punch line to Hannigan’s barbed wit, the pay-off getting to wear a wig looking suspiciously like Elton John’s shower cap. Their version of ‘Easy Street’ was the best song in Act One by a clear mile.

Over in the land of heroic-yet-lonely billionaires we found Daddy Warbucks – Bobby Hanlon in fine honey-tonsilled form. Granted, not the most confident actor the world will ever know (his shoes probably had the best seat in the auditorium),  but possessed with the disarming easy nature that makes audiences the world over fall in love with silver foxes who can hold a tune. He even managed a neat comedic improv line to cover a technical cock-up. Nice one.

The cracks in this production lay partly in the direction but mostly with the orchestra, who simply refused to shut the hell up… or tune their instruments for that matter. It was a ceaseless, merciless underscoring that all but drowned out the dialogue of those cast members not wearing a mike.

Kathryn Curry’s very meta style of direction – you are watching a play, let us play to you, wink-wink – would work well in a pantomime setting but is strangely at odds when a more casual rat-a-tat-tat pace of dialogue is called for. Bold, primary-coloured emotion is fine, but works better when tempered with more muted tones.

While the show was great and a sweet-hearted glittery spectacle, all the glitter in the world can’t hide the fact that certain niggling things some of the actors were asked to do did not make sense!

    • Bobby Hanlon burning his fingers on… popcorn?
    • Annie walking trance-like in the Oval Office – surely the secret service would have taken her out?
    • The back-drop curtains moved from being a gorgeous, atmospheric picture-book style, to some Dahlian nightmare during ‘N.Y.C.’, as if Warbucks and Annie had just popped an acid pill.

All seriously weird. Bordering on Unisong weird. And what was going on with the policeman and that dog?!

The show could also have done with a good deal of judicious trimming.  For a start, Act One came in at a punishing eighty-five minutes long – the same running time as ‘Toy Story 2’.  There were too many bad songs and too many scenes outstaying their welcome, with too many long gaps between too many cues.

By contrast, Act Two was a joy – snappy, kinetic and showing off its comic mettle like a badge of honour. I’d like to hereby name my Star of the Chorus Line as being one Robert Curry. Looking for all the world like George Dubya in his White House attire and pirouetting off stage in delight as curmudgeonly butler, Drake, he gave a master class in clumsy comedy and – I’m putting this out there now – I want more. The scene in the White House was completely bonkers – like ‘Monty Python’ doing ‘The West Wing’ – and I absolutely loved it!

This was a technical triumph of a show. The set was dressed beautifully, the costumes sumptuous and, amazingly, sourced or made by the company themselves. Bloody well done!  The scene changes were slick, like turning the page of a children’s story, and the cast were evidently having a great time producing the kind of contagious fun that would melt the granite heart of any cynic, mine included.

All-in-all, Annie was great fun that, with a tighter rein on visuals and blocking, had the potential to be an incredible show.

Annie and Sandy smiled at a job well done. Despite their advanced cataracts.

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10 comments on “Annie

  1. Enjoyed the review, Roger – still wrestling with the image of a Libyan Junior Male Voice Choir! I think you’re spot on about the technical achievements and rightly highlight the talent of Georgina and the sparkle of Louise, Hamish and Alison – the pace picked up when they sleazed onto the stage. Not sure I understand about meta direction. I always think of musicals as panto-partners – the very fact that people suddenly burst into song midway through conversations makes them siblings to my mind. I can’t think of any musicals I’ve seen where the collaboration (as in we’re all in-the-know about how this sort of thing works) between audience and cast isn’t pretty overt. I thought the tight direction worked in this case and suspect that some of the clunkier moments (and as you say there really weren’t many) were a product of an amateur production and, specifically, on people remembering their lines which always slows things down a tad. Love the fact that in such a small town so much talent and chutzpah can be harnessed and then unleashed in all-singing, all-dancing glory. As you say, bloody well done.
    Keep up the reviews – I love them. Jackie

  2. After a week of some great performances and a lot of entertainment going on right next to me it seems a shame to get snarky. I was the guy playing the flute/clarinet/bass clarinet/alto-saxophone/tenor-saxophone/baritone saxophone parts on the french horn in the pit. “…where logic is taken to die”: quite ! You get used to the strange invisibility of playing in a pit band after a while and the almost complete absence of notice or thanks from most including the press – after all, what is going on on-stage is most important ? The interesting exceptions are the cast, several of whom take the trouble to thank the band, each night in some cases, and the audience inhabiting, particularly, the front row who often give a cheery and earnest thank you – this week was no exception.

    Happy to take criticism too, when just, and the point about intonation is fair enough, it really wasn’t very good. But balance? I don’t think so. Do you honestly think that the orchestra is doing anything other than its level best to get the balance right ? As a sensitive and experienced musician I make my judgement about balance by listening; listening to what is going on around me in the band, on stage and what the MD asks of me. Sometimes you need to be as quiet as possible other times you have to play out to provide the right level of support to the singers and to bring out key melodies and give dramatic effect. Without this skill from the musicians the very spice and colour of a musical would be missing. In the dialogue sections as well as in other places I was playing at a volume which was right at the edge of what is technically possible – both tiring and risky (particularly when mimicking an instruments whose range is at the extreme end of the capability of a horn).

    You could of course just use a CD, you can after all just turn the volume right down on them (ideal for control freaks), however this would give no flexibility to the performance and the creative fire from the singers which brings the performance alive would be missing. And also those occasions when singers miss lines or fudge rhythms (yes it does happen) would bring the show to a halt rather than having the collective quick thinking and awareness of the MD and band smoothing it over to allow the show to go on.

    The “merciless underscoring” is what the composer wrote, and it is the responsibility of the director to work with the MD to make the best of the very shoddy job this particular composer made of the orchestration. The director certainly let the MD and band know it was too loud, unfortunately this is all that was said (about anything the band was doing) – often not even giving the number in which balance was an issue. If the director had reached the conclusion that dialogue sections were still not being heard despite the bands best effort then it would have been possible to ask the MD to cut the band from these sections or found a way of increasing the projection from the stage.

    Having spoken to several musician friends who attended the performance their view was that for much of the performance the band wasn’t strong enough. All this leads me to suspect that for some, including the director, the only thing which is important is on stage. However, this is a musical, not a play, and to make a musical really work, you have to work with the band and not just slag it off. It is disappointing that someone putting themselves up as a critic should not get such a fundamental point, and be so easily satisfied with merely abusing the band.

    These are my personal views, though it wouldn’t surprise me if the rest of the band and MD saw this review’s comments about the band as an unjust kick in the teeth

    • Dear Ian

      You make some interesting and valid points regarding the musician and how he is viewed by the audience. You’re absolutely spot on when you say the focus is all about what’s happening on stage, and this is never more true than with an amateur production involving children, friends and family.

      With regard to this production in particular, I’ve passed your comments over to Roger, and he replies:

      “Mr Kille need not look upon this as a personal kick in the teeth – nor should the band. The ‘merciless’ underscoring was unnecessary and surplus to requirements. It would have better served both parties had they stuck to orchestrating the songs themselves – which were pretty good by and large – and left the action dry.

      “None of this is the fault of musicians but should have been dealt with at producer level. I have worked under similar conditions in the past and I appreciate the difficulties presented with underscoring performances with live instruments. I have no doubt the orchestra was trying their level best but they were fighting a poor production decision and the end result was sadly inevitable.”

      The whole musician-versus-performer issue is one worth tackling in more detail. If you would like to make a submission in this regard based on your own experiences (as in this case), please contact me at chastityflyte@gmail.com.

      Best wishes

      Chastity x

  3. I think your comments towards Kathryn Curry quite Frankly Are DISGUSTING. she followed the script to the letter and if you think it was too long then that is something you should take up with the writers of the musical and NOT The director. Also the songs in the first half Again take it up with the writers of the musical. The costumes were sourced and made by Kathryn Curry and Angela Winson, often staying up til 3 in the morning so that they were perfect. Maybe you should stick to writing about Pies as you clearly Know very Little about Musicals. Personally I thought It WAS an INCREDIBLE SHOW and so did everyone I spoke to . Thankfully your comments matter Not a Jot to the people of Berwick and I for one will NOT be attending any of the plays you have written scripts for. By the way for anyone else reading this the BBC stands for Berwick Broadcasting Corporation and not The British Broadcasting Corporation as you suggest SHAME ON YOU !!!!!!!

    • Dear Anonymous

      It’s great that a production can provoke such passionate defence and, boy, are you passionate!

      However, we feel your emotions have clouded your judgement. Eighty-five minutes is too long for a first act whichever way you cut it. Now, it may be that there were conditions attached to the performing rights so that cuts could not be made. If so, fair enough, Kathyrn Curry’s hands were tied, but often you find there is some wiggle room in this respect.

      Roger – the reviewer – also gave full credit to the costumes, a truly superb effort by those involved.

      Now. On a personal note, I would like to address the second half of your comment where you seem to be labouring under some misapprehension. While the BBC does indeed stand for the Berwick Broadcasting Corporation for whom I write, it DOES also stand for the British Broadcasting Corporation. To put your mind at rest, I am happy to inform you that I’ve been involved in a BBC project involving Dara O’Briain, Ash Atalla (producer of ‘The Office’ and ‘The IT Crowd’, for example), and Adam Chase (writer and exec producer of ‘Friends’). Paul Mayhew-Archer (eg. ‘Vicar of Dibley’, producer of ‘Old Harry’s Game’) has also proved a valuable source of writing advice. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has also requested several pilot sitcoms from me which have met with favourable responses, and I am currently working on a radio play.

      All comment and opposing viewpoints are welcome, provided they refrain from personal attack and unfounded accusation.

      We’re delighted that you enjoyed ‘Annie’ enough to write in, and NOTBAd looks forward to receiving your comments on future productions.

      Chastity x

    • And here is the reviewer’s response:

      “Well, Anonymous, you appear to have missed the main point- that I actually liked the show. I too thought the costumes were brilliant and the show had a really good look. I have already said this in the review.

      “My points toward Kathryn Curry were made as things that, whilst not neccesarily bad, were sometimes distracting. The option to cut songs, dialogue and underscoring is always an option (this is my third review of a production of ‘Annie’ and this was the first time I had heard some of these songs) and would have made a good show better. Just don’t tell anyone that you’ve done it – no-one will ever be sat in the audience following ad lib. The problem here was sticking too rigidly to the script. Seriously, losing 15 minutes from act one would have made this show even better – and as I have already said, it was good. Really good.

      “I personally don’t mind what people say about my writing/productions. I’m fine with it. It’s not a personal attack; they don’t hate me.

      “Try to focus on the positive points. I LIKED THIS SHOW! Anything else is just static. Like you say, it does not matter a jot.

      “I have also never written about pies – to my knowledge.”

      “Best wishes – Roger”

  4. I’d just like to say that I loved having live music with all its riskiness and highs and lows. I think it really added to overall feel of the show – much better than a CD! Also, it was quite clear that the MD and musicians were working their socks off. I saw the show four times and it was different every time – quite a challenge to keep the musical momentum going. Some criticism is valid but I’d say Roger’s initial slating was a bit too one dimensional and am pleased to see he has back peddled slightly in his response to Ian’s comment.

    • Hi Jackie

      I agree, the feel just wouldn’t be the same with a CD and I do feel Ian’s comments on just where the emphasis lies in a musical are worth exploring. While the response to this production has been largely favourable, there’s no escaping the fact there have been grumblings about sound issues. The problem I suspect lies with professional musicians working with an amateur cast who, unmiked, understandably have projection difficulties. Balance was always going to be difficult to achieve.

      Thanks, as always, for your comment!

      Chastity x

  5. Dear Ms Flyte,

    I just felt that I had to write to say how much I objected to the rather personal and very unhelpful comments of the person who remains anonymous – ’tis a shame they don’t have the good grace to say who they are when they are making personal attacks, though maybe their poor grammar is a source of such shame, they don’t feel able to give their name…

    The review was fair and balanced and it was good to see such an excellent response from Ian Kille on the matters raised about the musical scoring. THAT is the sort of useful and helpful respose we want to see on here, not personal swipes and ill-informed diatribes.

    Ms Flyte – keep up the good work.

    Mr/Ms Anonynous – shame on YOU for such spiteful comments and crimes against grammar and punctuation.

  6. One of the best reviews of a production I’ve read in a long time. The production company are fortunate that Roger has taken the time to write a balanced, analytical review that engages constructively with the show and is great fun to read at the same time. In my opinion there’s nothing in here to take offence at, and it’s provoked a mostly sensible debate too. More please! Whitewashes are boring and do nobody any favours. In fact, theatre made in Berwick won’t continue to improve unless honest feedback is given and graciously received – or disagreed with. Great stuff.

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