Theatre Review: Annie at Theatre Royal Nottingham

Words: Ian Kingsbury
Photos: Paul Coltas
Thursday 15 June 2023
reading time: min, words
Annie UK Tour 2023 Craig Revel Horwood (Miss Hannigan), Billie Kay (Lily) And Paul French (Rooster). Photo Paul Coltas (2)

There’s little to say about Annie that hasn’t already been said. It’s a heart-warming rags to riches tale of a red-headed orphan girl determined to escape the grimness of the orphanage and find the life and happiness she has been denied. All set against the backdrop of early 1930s New York, racked by growing unemployment and poverty and on the precipice of The Great Depression.

I hadn’t actually seen the film, nor was I really aware of the various musical adaptations, save for a couple of the more iconic numbers. But I was pleasantly surprised that the plot contained a nice little history lesson and a rather neat parallel of the macro and the micro. On the one hand we have the US’s journey from a tanking economy, faltering industry and mass unemployment to the sunny uplands of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, and on the other we have little orphan Annie’s own journey from a similarly impoverished, neglected, Skid Row existence to the love, belonging and material wealth offered by Billionaire businessman Oliver ‘Daddy’ Warbucks. And who doesn’t like a happy ending?

Maligned and mistreated by dipsomaniacal orphanage owner Miss Hannigan (wonderfully played with arch camp and not a little sass and sauce by the triple threat that is Craig Revel-Horwood), Annie embarks on a journey to find her birth parents. But what she – and we – really find is our capacity for unconditional love and the all-conquering power of the human spirit. I’n’t that nice!

Annie UK Tour 2023 Craig Revel Horwood (Miss Hannigan), Billie Kay (Lily) And Paul French (Rooster). Photo Paul Coltas(3)

Annie could just as well be called Pollyanna – her plucky, sunny-side up attitude to life is a tonic we should all quoff from time to time. And this show certainly left the audience with a warm, happy glow judging by a very well-deserved standing ovation for a delightful evening’s entertainment.

The origin story for the film and subsequent stage adaptations is a nice little slice of happenstance. Lyricist-director Martin Charnin bought a coffee table book called “The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie” as a Christmas gift for a friend in 1970. The book was based on Harold Gray's popular comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” which first appeared in the 1920s in the New York Daily News. The bookshop worker was too busy to wrap the book, so Charnin took it home to wrap. Instead, he read it, fell in love with it, and set out to secure the rights. His friend never did get their Christmas present.

And so, over 50 years later, here we are at the Royal Concert Centre in Nottingham, marvelling at the curious jigsaw puzzle themed set and eagerly anticipating lights down and curtain up.  I was a little anxious that with two of it’s most well-known songs, “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow” appearing within the first 10 or so minutes, that the show would have peaked for me. But I needn’t have. The production and performances are superb, and had me grinning like a mooncalf and toe-tapping my way through this deceptively pacey 2.5 hour belter of a show.

The source material is strong, the staging and production values thrilling, but it’s real strength is the sheer talent of the cast, with impressive vocals throughout, tightly choreographed dance routines delivered with zeal and aplomb, and some really nice comedic chops. The young cast playing the orphanage girls were all incredible, but special mention goes to Poppy Cunningham, who played Annie and gave the show it’s heart.

Within seconds of the show starting it was somewhat marred by someone causing a frankly bizarre disturbance somewhere up in the ‘Gods’. As disconcerting as this was for us the audience, full credit goes to the young cast who, without missing a beat or batting an eyelid, powered on through, with consummate professionalism.  Thankfully the venue ejected them fairly swiftly and the evening got back on track. Perseverance overcoming an inauspicious start. Am I talking about the shouty audience moron or the plot of the show? Both I suppose, and that’s another nice parallel.

Annie is showing at the Royal Concert Hall until 17 June 2023. 


We have a favour to ask

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion

Please note, we migrated all recently used accounts to the new site, but you will need to request a password reset

Sign in using

Or using your

Forgot password?

Register an account

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.

Forgotten your password?

Reset your password?

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.