“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!
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.