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Miranda Hart leads a thrilling West End return for Annie – review

BBC comedian Miranda Hart is the latest celebrity to be thrown into the wonderful world of the West End – taking on the role of Miss Hannigan in a thrilling London homecoming for Annie.

It’s to screams and cheers of applause that the drunk and rather unwelcoming creature (the character, not Miranda) stumbles centre stage to give the girls of the orphanage a good telling off. She is, rightly so, unpleasant and unkind in all of her being. It was clear, as we’ve been told upon her casting, that Miranda’s dream role is Miss Hannigan. Towering about her feisty enemies and setting them all to work on multiple occasions, the comedic skills were out in force as she turned an ageing character on a somewhat modern twist.

It’s true that the singing didn’t quite storm to such success, but who needs to hear Little Girls delivered beautifully, anyway? Not us – just ask the drag queens we’ve heard nail it on many occasions. Thankfully, where her inexperience in live theatre vocally dipped, a stonking kick up the arse of comedy soared instead. Miranda isn’t your conventional tribute to the signature theatre baddie, but we somewhat enjoyed this celebrity casting more than we’ve many others beforehand. The drunken stumbles and slumping to the floor unique and fun.

Related: First look at Miranda Hart making her West End debut as Miss Hannigan in Annie

Nikolai Foster’s production is both fresh and exciting – also clearly a polite nod to the brilliance of Matilda in scenic design. Somewhat predictable in direction, there’s pockets of lacklustre holes that naturally draw focus away from where storytelling should be happening. This most noticeable during the tender moments of the show. However, the brilliance of Nick Winston’s choreography lights up the stage with every turn and expression. It’s a fresh take on an old classic. Call it surgery for an ageing star – with added sass from this electric ensemble – the noticeable real standouts of the night. Bobby Delaney as Bert Healy the brightest star.

Alex Bourne’s Daddy Warbucks is wonderfully touching as he struggles to help search for the joy Annie so desperately needs, while Holly Dale Spencer’s superb take on Grace Farrell a real touch of glam. Of course, no production of Annie is complete without a child star and Madeleine Haynes’ delivery of Tomorrow – as expected – a real highlight. Jonny Fines and Djalenga Scott also of great success, too!

And yet, with such greatness comes the strongest (and loudest) beam of light – or should that say sound – in George Dyer’s musical direction. Often the tense sound of children and a rousing ensemble cause havoc for an audience when mixed, but here it’s a joy. The intimacy of the Piccadilly Theatre most likely have added to such charm.

This tale of a red-haired orphan who goes in search of her parents (with the help of her newly found billionaire) remains a classic. Sure, Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s musical’s had a bit of a lift here – with added punch from this ensemble – but why not? Not everything has to remain, and not everything has to change. Annie’s grown up, but the age-old joy of this musical remains as delightful as it did the first time we watched as a kid. Just wait until you see the dog. Woof!

Gay Times gives Annie – 4/5

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