Annie, Piccadilly Theatre, review: ‘Miranda Hart is a force of nature on stage’
PUBLISHED: 17:00 14 June 2017
It’s taken two years for Nikolai Foster’s production of Annie to transfer from Leicester’s Curve to the West End. It’s a pity it wasn’t sooner.
It’s taken two years for Nikolai Foster’s production of Annie to transfer from Leicester’s Curve to the West End. It’s a pity it wasn’t sooner. Set during 1930s depression America, the show’s message of defiant optimism in the face of economic hardship could not have come at a better time.
Against a backdrop of a disorientating map of some indefinable section of Manhattan, Foster presents Annie’s orphanage as a microcosm of displacement, an island of lost souls in a sea of lost people. The balance between the sweetness of Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s hugely popular score and the darker social issues is handled with a canny touch: ragged costumes proclaim injustice but the jazz-hands magic wins out. Desperation isn’t confined to the streets of Hoovervilles or the girls in the orphanage.
Miss Hannigan – here played by comedy star Miranda Hart - is in the tradition of the desperate Dame and Hart revels in the tragi-comedy of Hannigan’s unfortunate sexual advances to every man who crosses the threshold. This is Hart’s first role in a West End musical and she’s a force of nature on stage. While her singing voice is sketchy - she shouts and growls her numbers rather than sings - given Hannigan’s love of gin, it works. Her sleazy rendition of ‘Easy Street’ accompanied by con-man brother Rooster (Jonny Fines - mesmerizing) is a highlight. Hart’s comic timing is often superbly understated. When PA Grace (wonderful support from Holly Dale Spencer) announces the billionaire Warbucks (Alex Bourne) wants to adopt Annie, Hart knocks back half a bottle of gin, assesses the result, murmurs ‘no’ to herself and continues drinking. On press night Madeleine Haynes was a flawless Annie.
Bourne is an immensely likeable Warbucks, though the character’s turnaround is swift. The satirical scene in the recording studio has some bite but it’s far from troubling.
With a billionaire saviour, the story dates. But Annie’s defiant pulse underscores every moment. While we may not have a cheerful Roosevelt heralding a new dawn, the show’s best-known number - ‘Tomorrow’ – truly raises the spirits.