Annie – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

Book by Thomas Meehan

Music by Charles StrouseLyrics by Martin Charnin

Directed by Nikolai Foster

Little orphan Annie, the tale of a scrappy, fiercely independent red-head orphan, is a cornerstone of musical theatre. Lyrical, quotable and determined to put a smile on your face, the production resumes touring with a thoroughly talented cast. Escaping the spiteful gaze of Miss Hannigan, Annie sees the gritty truth of the Big Apple. Encountering a few friends along the way, in high places, and one with excess fur, Annie finds herself being taken in by billionaire Warbucks.

Usually, politeness is on hand for younger performers in the role of Annie or fellow orphans. No such modesty is needed, however, as making her professional debut, Ava Smith isn’t emulating Annie – she is Annie. Snarky, friendly yet sharp in delivery, Smith is a firecracker who can belt out the big notes, holding clarity as well as our attention. At first, Smith’s Annie feels older, but she’s portraying a young girl puffing out her feathers to intimidate the world, capturing that brazen young American, hiding a vulnerable young girl.  

We love you Miss Hannigan’, words these unfortunate orphans must recite to the drunkard who is now their carer. Lesley Joseph is certainly a Miss Hannigan to fall for. She doesn’t quite have the fangs others have given the role, Joseph instead provides her honed comedic talents. Exaggeration is everything, Joseph is a veteran of comedy, knowing where to toe the line between over the top, and accessible. From the glugs of her ‘medicine’ to the slight wobble in her movement, she somehow offers a subtlety to a role which is dangerously easy to overplay. Vocally, her numbers reserve themselves for humour and characterisation, delivering a spit-fuelled Little Girls.

Something is fascinating with the music of Annie, beloved staples of the industry; chiefly Tomorrow and It’s a Hard Knock Life, reliving these live on stage is a wholly distinctive experience. These charming ditties – known to most, transform, proving that no matter how superior a cast recording is, nothing can eclipse a live performance. Nothing can capture the expressive nostalgia of N.Y.C quite like a performer’s smile, and certainly, nothing can come close to capturing the antics of Easy Street.

Rooster by name, Rooster by nature – Richard Meek has them snakes hips we envy, strutting around like any rooster in the hen-house. Easy Street casually strolls to the forefront of our enjoyment, firmly planting itself as a favourite. Choreographer Nick Winston, with reinforcement from dance captain Amy West, maintains an upbeat presence throughout Annie. Excelling at this, giving a huge boost to the character, Meek captures the spirit of Rooster, erratic, impulsive and unpredictable.

Framing these larger than life characters is no easy feat, one Colin Richmond readily prepares for. Setting the production in an emerald tinted homage to Rob Howell’s Matilda design, Richmond works in tandem with Ben Cracknell to provide a vibrancy which manages to illuminate the theatre, from the barrel fires of Hooverville to the glitz, gold and shine of Warbucks mansion. 

Bringing the ol’ razzamatazz, Daddy Warbucks himself, Alex Bourne captures an inherent art of classical musical theatre. His performance is paternal, selling the character as a loving father as easily as the businessman. Between his warming chemistry with Smith, the presence of four-footed diva Amber the dog and a wealth of talented young women as Annie’s fellow orphans. It’s a production which goes beyond expectations.

It can be a hard knock life these days, Annie is pure escapism, it’s comforting theatre, welcoming to all with a timeless charm. An already tried and tested piece, what this recent touring does is capitalise on a strong cast who look, act and feel the part. Take a few hours out of the day, breath in that rich, city air and re-live the thriving bundle of playfulness that is Annie.

Production runs at The Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday October 5th. Tickets available from: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/annie/edinburgh-playhouse/

WhirlyGig – Traverse Theatre

Created by Daniel Padden

Co-Produced with Red Bridge Arts and Catherine Wheels Co-Produced

In association with Catherine Wheels and Red Bridge Arts, Daniel Padden’s WhirlyGig lays bare the components of sound, how ridiculous it can be to play with, and the fun in how a single note can curve an entire composition. By tearing up the rulebook when it comes to orchestral arrangements, WhirlyGig suceeds in creating a wholly new sound through the slashing of score sheets, hops and jumps, taps and whistles.

WhirlyGig isn’t just a selection of noises, though: it’s an anatomy of music. Energy ripples throughout Padden’s composition, with its stiller moments allowing us to draw breath. Musicians Claire Willoughby, Rory Clark, Rory Haye and Sita Pieraccini play with a hoard of instruments, bottles, vocals and their bodies. Notable pieces include the four musicians synchronising in an impressive looped beat. The quartet play off one another – not only instrumentally, but in personality and comedic turns, showcasing how no two musicians have the same style, control, and, in some flawed circumstances, timing. Alison Brown’s vibrant costume design and Sergey Jakovsky’s subtle yet carnivalesque lighting add depth and charm to this production. 

As a whole, musical arrangements have no restrictions as to the age they inspire: pieces can strike anyone, at any age, at any time. WhirlyGig’s topsy-turvy vibrancy and playfulness with melody has the potential to capture young creative minds, and to rejuvenate a passion for a pure form of cobbled together music for anyone.

Review originally published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/whirlygig-traverse-theatre-edinburgh

Photo credit – CatherineWheels Theatre Company

Horrible Histories: Terrible Tudors & Awful Egyptians – King’s Theatre

Based on the books by Terry Deary

Writers: Terry Deary & Neal Foster

Director: Neal Foster

For 25 years the books of Horrible Histories have been delighting, disgusting and in some cases frightening the young (and old) of the nation. A tremendously valuable tool, they captured an imaginative way to make history and culture accessible for people who found little interest. Written by original author Terry Deary with Neal Foster, Horrible Histories the Terrible Tudors and Awful Egyptians are two shows which may share a cast, but each is crammed with enough differences to merit its own show.

Time flows in a peculiar way once we venture into the past, in two forty-five-minute acts we somehow go from the coronation of cruel hunchback Richard III right up to the death of Elizabeth I. We witness the building of the Pyramids and cover an extensive period of British and world history quicker (and better) than most curriculums. Yet, it doesn’t feel long enough. We want, neigh we beg more. We want more squelching moments of disgust, period cures to common ailments, more mummy (w)rapping and assuredly more interaction between the three performers.

Of the two, the vicious dramatics of Terrible Tudors may have more blood, gore and a braver audience, but it is those Awful Egyptians who have the more rounded piece. The overall narrative has a more fluid structure, with the smoother transitions between scenes. We are not solely witnessing the stories but instead trapped inside a Museum of Ancient Egyptian antiquities where the imposing Rameses the Great has been awakened.

A sumptuous blend of the ridiculous with the technological exists on stage. Some of the props are directly out of the drama school closet, the dolls of Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I are adorable, yet still creepy, speaking of which as is the puppet of Henry VIII only son, Edward. They’re used with love, their less grand manner heightening the gags. Buckle up though, this second act is about to pull out the bells and whistles…

A selling point for both Horrible Histories is its Boggle vision – 3D projections which serve as the backdrop for the second half. In cinema, this is a gimmick used once every thirty years. The fifties tried it, the eighties re-invented it and the later 2000s vastly improved upon it. The design work of Jackie Trousdale is tremendous. The cold stones of the Tower of London, rich flames and crimson squelches of blood plastering the screen setting the tone sublimely. Likewise, the vivid brightness of Ancient Egypt is only as appealing as the atmospheric haunts of the afterlife…

Just when you thought we couldn’t be livelier – these are in fact musicals. Yep, you read that right. Nothing works better for memorising history than mind-numbing rhymes which are far better than they have any right to be. Matthew Scott’s music composition captures Horrible Histories television show tunes many will be familiar with, Izaak Cainer and Lisa Allen belting out accomplished vocals.

In keeping with any successful children’s show, they cross the threshold into adult territory. Doing so not only in humour but through serious tone changing, shifting from the farcically fun into the dramatic but gruesome features of history. The dedication undertook by cast member Lisa Allen in her closing moments as Elizabeth I are stirring, echoing back to the sinister turn earlier in the production as the famous Green Sleeves degrades into the fate of Anne Boleyn.

Simon Nook, half caricature, half comedian and half King of England brings his absolute A-game to both productions, firstly as a larger than life Henry the VIII but then as an even more menacingly hilarious Ramesses the Great. He knows just when to kickstart the audience, which button needs pushing and how to dial up the volume from the party poopers in the crowd. His voices encourage fits of pure giggles in a way the original books first accomplished. His performance to ‘make Egypt great again’ may slip over a few heads but has knifepoint commentary laced throughout.

Nook, Allen and Cainer capture the essence of what Deary brought to the publishing world decades ago. To not only educate but to entertain, gross-out and ignite a passion for history. Both Terrible Tudors and Awful Egyptians are hilarious, engaging and beneficial for any inspiring history buff while reigniting a passion for us adults.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/horrible-histories-terrible-tudors-and-awful-egyptians-kings-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit – Mark Douet