By: Indigo Cleverley, TRP Reviewer
Leaping Lizards! Annie, one of the most frequently performed musicals in the world, has made its delightful return to the Lyric Stage at The Theatre Royal Plymouth this summer and is performing to jam-packed audiences of a variety of ages. With productions across the globe, a record-breaking six-year Broadway run, west end runs, nationwide tours and film adaptations, there’s a reason why Annie has remained a popular and culturally significant show.
Opening in a cramped, unsentimental room where the orphans sleep, we are immediately introduced to the substandard, rotten life the girls lead in 1930s America, relying only on each other for support and persistence. One thing which stands out – from the beginning of the show and throughout – is its refreshingly candid, blunt representation of America during the Great Depression and the societal chasm between rich and poor – perhaps more prominent themes to 2023 audiences…
With any show featuring young performers (particularly as the lead!), the ability of each of the young talents on stage is simply astonishing. Although 3 gifted young ladies rotate the role of Annie, tonight we are fortunate to be led by the lovely Zoe Akinyosade who portrays Annie with an admirable blend of sass, sadness and sweetness – its impossible not to want to adopt Annie yourself!! Delivering every singing line with her eloquent euphonious voice, Zoe Akinyosade is an immensely professional performer at only nine years old.
Most of us are familiar with Craig Revel-Horwood as ‘the mean judge’ on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing but who knew he was such a fab-u-lous triple threat – the power of his vocals had me jaw-dropped at times. With an intense New York accent (sometimes so strong I couldn’t quite understand!) , he conveys the cruelty of Miss Hannigan brilliantly and at times, comedically.
Commanding the stage as billionaire, Oliver Warbucks is Alex Bourne who shows the development of the character as the show progresses incredibly – transforming from an apathetic workaholic to an animated optimist. The chemistry between Warbucks and Annie is indispensable and does indeed shine brightly on stage.
Every single cast member delivers the performance of a lifetime during the two hours, and I wish I could compliment and commend every single member. However, I just have to mention Paul French who portrays the morally bankrupt Rooster with such passion, it’s hard not to keep your eyes stuck on him – especially during his dance numbers!
Colin Richmond’s set design is unique, with an avalanche of jigsaw pieces framing the stage, complimented by Ben Cracknell’s lighting design where the lighten, darken, change colour and disappear into one another as the story progresses, setting a steady backdrop to the action on stage. At times, I feel like the back of the stage could have been used to enhance the depiction of the setting as New York, however the clever use of props and costumes perhaps make up for this.
On the topic of costumes, they are one of the strongest elements of this production. Fully embodying the 1930s New York fashion and textiles, we are presented with a huge assortment of costumes from the unwashed, grubby rags of the unfortunate orphans to Grace’s stunning regal emerald ball gown.
Personally, I didn’t realise Annie had this many songs in it but even so, each one stands out and brings something different whilst also carrying along the storyline and presenting the characters. The ensemble numbers are undoubtedly the showstoppers; the combination of the collective vocals and sharp, satisfying choreography is marvellous – musical theatre at its best. Nick Winston’s clever, eye-pleasing choreography strongly stands out during the numbers – It’s A Hard Knock Life, Hooverville and Easy Street.
Jam-packed with catchy tunes and spectacular talents, Annie is a fun-filled, heart-warming tale of friendship and family which reminds you that the sun will come out tomorrow.