Talented child actors, a Labradoodle, elements of ballet, tap, a paper airplane thrown from the stage into the audience, dancers on rollers skates – Annie, showing at the Bristol Hippodrome, has everything and more as Andy Wynn explains…
Everyone knows the story of Annie, right? The orphan girl who runs away to try and find her parents and ends up finding happiness another way? No spoiler there, it’s a classic. Except not everyone apparently, I turn 40 in a few weeks and headed to Bristol Hippodrome last night for the launch night of this incarnations spell in Bristol fully aware of the story and looking forward to seeing it again.
It just that, I had the wrong musical in my head. The story I know is not Annie, but Oliver. As the show went on, I became more and more aware that my life has somehow contrived to avoid seeing Annie until now.
So, that sorted, I re-emerged onto the streets just after 10pm, carried in a throng of all ages, full of smiles and chatter. Small groups breaking into short mini-renditions of Tomorrow of varying quality. Tomorrow I knew, as I did Easy Street and hard Knock Life, I haven’t missed out that much.
Last night’s performance was a story of actors at either end of the spectrum of life. One emerging, another who might be expected to be fading, although appears to be stubbornly refusing to do so and one entering middle age to complete the trio. A trio it is, a trio of actors, two vastly experienced and one just beginning to tread the boards professionally. I usually like to focus on a standout performer in reviews, there is normally one who shines brightest, who impresses most. Not so last night. My partner, Ali, and I discussed it as we drove home, alternating our praise of the trio.
The youngest proponent, a child of perhaps 12/13 years and making her professional debut as Annie was Freya Yates. I assume you’ve not heard of her, you will though. Based on last night we left in awe of this young girl, immensely talented and on stage for almost the entire show. Acting, dancing, singing – not much just a selection solos, duets and ensemble numbers – and generally looking very much at home under the lights, very much where she is supposed to be, very much the seasoned performer. If she missed a note, a cue, a step or fumbled her lines then we didn’t spot it, even when the dog (yes, a Labradoodle engaging with her at points for good measure) seemed to go slightly, er, off script, during one solo. Freya looked down as Amber nudged her leg, returned her attention to the audience and didn’t miss a beat. The audience loved her and there was an impression that the more experienced cast did too.
Freya, of course, wasn’t the only child in the show. A cast of 6 supporting orphans were brilliant.
Returning to our trio, we have Anita Dobson and Alex Bourne. Two big names. Dobson is a household name from her days in Eastenders and so many shows and TV series since. Bourne, perhaps less a household name, a supremely talented and experienced performer. These two, well these two oozed class. There is no other way of putting it. They were effortless. They were somehow powerful and understated at the same time. They didn’t overshadow the child actors. They were the embodiment of the combination of amazing talent, hard work and a few decades or experience.
Anita Dobson is 69, just ponder that for a second, 69. At almost 40 I seem to creak when I get out of the car, at 69 she is singing and dancing with such class that every muscle in her body is in character, every flick of a foot relevant, what better role model for young Freya Yates to work with on her professional debut.
The highlight for me though, amongst many, was the chemistry between Annie and Daddy Warbucks, Freya Yates and Alex Bourne. Long scenes, dance routines and duets together throughout the second half of the performance were magical, the connection between them was something to behold. Bourne a consummate professional, giving himself to the role of hardened billionaire who finds a cause and wins a heart.
I could sit here this morning, at my desk, and type for hours about the trio.
The show itself, after a slow start it grew and grew. I am told there are, as always, differences to the film, the classic. It had everything, not just talented children actors and a Labradoodle but elements of ballet, tap routines, a paper airplane thrown from the stage into the audience, dancing on rollers skates and the enchanting voice of Carolyn Maitland as Grace Farrell, if you have the chance to get along to the show this week, make sure you take it.
Annie is showing until March 23rd, tickets are available here.