Review: New York attitude aplenty in this fine production of Annie

Annie, by the Leamington and Warwick Musical Society, Spa Centre, Leamington. On until April 12. Box office: 334418.

Joanne Murphy as Miss Hannigan with Mollie Dibb as Annie and orphans played by Isabella Fenton, Lauren McCann, Isobel Woodward, Kathryn Ritchie, Tanya Saunders and Carly Furlong.
Joanne Murphy as Miss Hannigan with Mollie Dibb as Annie and orphans played by Isabella Fenton, Lauren McCann, Isobel Woodward, Kathryn Ritchie, Tanya Saunders and Carly Furlong.

Using rather a quaint phrase, the programme proclaims: “Leamington & Warwick Musical Society Proudly Presents The Musical Annie”.

Judging from this performance, they have plenty to be proud of.

You know you’re in safe hands from the outset. Long-time watchers of theatre in these parts will be reassured by the involvement names like Shurvinton (choreographer Nikki and actor Graham) and Duckham (director Stephen).

But what lays to rest any fear that this may be a rather cloying, sentimental evening is the striking performance of the orphan girls, who were the outstanding members of a gifted cast. From the outset, they understand the show’s requirement for edge, aggression, energy and attitude: an early, almost violent Hard-Knock Life is one of the undoubted highlights of the night. Their New York accents too were remarkably strong.

And the role of Annie herself - played by Mollie Dibb on the night the Courier visited - was performed exquisitely, her charm matched gallon-for-gallon by wit. A girl singing Tomorrow alone on a stage with a dog (Sandy, played by the delightfully obedient Daisy) could be a rather saccharine affair; here, it’s a genuinely uplifting ode to the power of hope.

The musical itself isn’t perfect: some songs are better than others, and the story (taking in the Depression, enteprenuerial largesse and radical social policy) could be tighter.

But the production itself is pretty much flawless. Particular credit is due to Joanne Murphy for her tragi-comic, bluesy-voiced Miss Hannigan, while the crew deserves plaudits for executing this technically ambitious musical with aplomb.

The only real drawback was the dry ice. I had a bit of a reaction to it; it made my eyes water.

It wasn’t that I was crying or anything. Honest...

Peter Ormerod