Annie – Edinburgh Playhouse

Book by Thomas Meehan

Music by Charles Strouse

Lyrics by Martin Charnin

Directed by Nikolai Foster

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A pillar of the musical theatre world, Thomas Meehan’s adaptation of the little orphan Annie has found itself for nearly fifty years in numerous re-stagings and tours, winning awards and offering a sliver of saccharine joy amidst the bleakness of the world outside. There’s something about the warming glow of the young orphan girl who finds happiness at home with a billionaire (wouldn’t we all) and the impact she has on so many lives along the way that makes Annie one of the most well-rounded and audience-pleasing productions – even for the misery-guts in the audience.

From comic strips to stage, to musical to film, the little orphan girl Annie has sat in the hearts of millions for generations. And bringing that trademark sickeningly addictive sense of positivity throughout is Harlie Barthram (in rotation with Zoe Akinyosade and Poppy Cunningham), who radiates exceptional control of the Playhouse stage, reaching above the orchestra. Under Joshua Griffith’s direction, the infamous musicality of the show not only maintains its energy, but Griffith emphasizes the score itself outside of the lyrics – retaining poise and flow of momentum.

Together with a strong ensemble cast of vocalists and dancers, the levity of the production rings through the hearts of audiences long into the night. Barthram and the entire child cast bring an innocence which rings throughout: Annie has no trouble distinguishing between right and wrong, and her age is a benefit, rather than a weakness, in confronting those who should know better.

But if you’re here for the wickedness, the misery, and the gin – audiences are in for a triple threat of antagonistic delight. From the show’s true villain, the low-life Rooster and his high-kicking, flamboyant and sharp-minded associate Lily – to Rooster’s older sister and star vehicle for Annie’s Edinburgh run, Paul O’Grady’s Miss Hannigan. And there’s a reason O’Grady earns the largest cheer of the evening, even over the utterly adorable four-legged co-star. Pure, old-fashioned entertainment, the legacy star gives their all to Miss Hannigan, a role which usually makes the production. Flirtatious, inebriated, sharp in comedy, and sharp in physicality, O’Grady gives the audience precisely what they were wishing for, even if the New York accent resets after every second sentence.

Over the iterations, the sense of dread and threat which emanated from Annie’s antagonists has been muted. Gone is Rooster’s more violent streak, and in its place, a more amiable finale; not to say Paul French is tempered, indeed had the original, more menacing, narrative remained – there’s little question to their ability to spread a profound sense of fear in the audience. The shrieks and cockerel call French launches into the audience still carry threatening aggression. Channelling their energy into thundering through the musical routine for Easy Street, providing the antagonists with the runaway number of the night – though the young cast will give them a run for their money, Young, Billie-Kay (Lily) and O’Grady put in a sterling display of tenacity and rhythm, demonstrating Nick Winston’s choreography at its tightest.

Under the enormous bronze moniker of their legacy, this evening David Burrows brings Daddy Warbucks to life with grace, charm, and astute nature for leaning to the comedic without overplaying. Vocally, Burrows has a tone to harmonise with the younger singers and Amelia Adams’ Grace Farrell (Warbuck’s assistant). His more authentic voice carries a vintage understanding of emotion. The hows and whys of his past though, and the depths of other characters are lacking somewhat in Meehan’s characterisation, Annie never being a musical with much depth or substance. But visually, Colin Richmond’s set and costume strike solid gold. From the fragmented pieces of the orphanage to the squaller and community of Hooverville, Annie, when struck with just the right lighting from Ben Cracknell, catapults into an explosive palette leap from putrid and lurid greens to bright hopeful golds.

Carrying more than its fair share of defining musical numbers, Annie is a perfectly rounded piece of musical theatre set to draw in masses of new-time fans and veteran followers of the red-headed orphan. It never unearths the more intimate aspects of character growth, but with a delightful cast who bring these numbers to life, and infuses them with such unbridled joy and vigour, there’s no reason to wait for the Sun to come out tomorrow, cause it’s right there, right now, at the Edinburgh Playhouse.

Unbridled Joy

Annie runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until March 25th. Tuesday – Saturday at 19.30pm. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 14.30pm.
Running time – Two hours and thirty minutes including interval. Suitable for ages 8+
Tickets begin from £13.00 and may be obtained here.


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