We were really excited to be invited to the press night of Annie at the Hippodrome Birmingham. It’s one of the girls favourite shows and we all love songs, they are such classics. The girls have a real fondness for feisty orphans who battle against the odds. It’s one of their favourite tropes and Annie is the undoubted queen. This version of Annie has a freshness about it, while staying true to the original.
We had a wonderful time at the press night and were spoilt with a selection of sweeties and ice cream in the interval.
The play opens with the orphans in their beds. The stage is set brilliantly and it transports you to the orphanage in New York, 1919. There is so much detail in the set, there are even teddies the children have thrown and have landed on the lights. The background of the set is covered in jigsaw pieces, which light up in different colours throughout. This is visually stunning and makes you think how Annie is looking for the place she will fit in the world.
The first song is Hard Knock Life and the chorus of girls attacks it with infectious energy and enthusiasm which carries through the whole performance. We particularly liked the portrayal of the youngest member of the orphanage Molly, played by Honey-Rose Quinn. She had some great lines, which she delivered with gusto and adorable cheekiness.
The children’s parts are played by three different actors. On the night we went to see the play, the part of Annie was performed by Freya Yates, who carried the show with quiet confidence. She had a real sweet optimism about her without the brashness of the original movie, although if she told you to sing, you would sing. Sandy, a 5-year-old Labradoodle named Amber, absolutely stole our hearts, and almost stole the show.
Mrs Hannigan played by Jodie Prenger is wonderfully frightful. She is a nightmare of a guardian for the children, who loves her gin more than caring for the children. Her performance was pitch-perfect. She is by turns hideous and hilarious, but you still feel just a tinge of empathy that she has ended up like that and hope she can redeem herself. It would be easy to play this part as an over-the-top caricature but Prenger keeps it realistic, which actually makes the character even more terrifying as she is so believable.
There is a real sense of time and place in this performance. You get a feeling for the depression era which gives the play a solid backbone. There is a definite relevance to today and brought up some interesting conversations with the girls about the history of the 30s and homelessness today.
Juxtaposed with the hard lives of the poor, is the glitz and glamour of Warbucks. I love the old school Broadway feel of the songs in this section. It felt like being transported back in time. Grace, played by Carolyn Maitland, really lives up to her name, with a sweet stylishness with contrasts well with Miss Hannigan. Warbucks played by Alex Bourne had a likeable gruffness and we all felt so bad for him when it looked like he wasn’t going to be able to adopt Annie. The end was really emotional, although it felt a bit strange celebrating Christmas in a very steamy July. Luckily the air conditioning in the theatre is excellent, as it was a particularly hot day, yet we felt really cool and comfortable.
There was a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the show. We went away singing the songs, and feeling optimistic and uplifted. It is the perfect Summer holiday treat for all the family.
Annie is on at the Hippodrome Birmingham until Sunday 11 August.
Tickets start from £24
Disclaimer: We were given a family ticket for the purposes of this review.