Optimism in a Depression
at New Theatre Oxford
From April 17-22
By JON LEWIS and HANNAH LEWIS (aged 12)
Watching Nikolai Foster’s engaging production of the popular musical Annie in 2023 after reviewing the same show in 2015 in the same theatre with the same actor, Alex Bourne, playing Daddy Warbucks, it noticeable that the main themes are so much more relevant in today’s hard-up Britain. Annie, with the book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics from Martin Charnin, takes place during the Great Depression with foodbanks installed in multiple Hoovervilles serving the many homeless and rootless citizens in New York.
It is only when the wheelchair-bound US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (David Burrows) encounters the feisty Annie (Zoe Akinyosade) in his cabinet office that he forms the contours of what will become his New Deal programme to get America back to work. Annie’s stoic optimism in her quest to find her birth parents allied to the luck of being plucked out of child servitude by America’s richest oligarch, Mr Warbucks from the orphanage managed by its immoral owner, Miss Hannigan (Craig Revel-Horwood), strikes a surprising chord today.
Hard-Knock Life, the vibrant song delivered by the orphans in their dormitory, sets the tone brilliantly for a show where existing is hard. Easy Street, the number sung by Miss Hannigan alongside her criminal brother Rooster (Paul French) and his moll Lily (Billie Kay) suggests the corruption infusing institutional life in the 30s. With its fractured jigsaw set (designer, Colin Richmond) denoting a broken system, the layoffs in Warbucks’ factories in Ohio, and the threats posed by Hitler’s new regime in far-off Germany, Annie’s themes are far from dated.
Hannah writes: I really enjoyed Annie because the voices were really clear. It was nice to see Craig Revel-Horwood in person and seeing him dance rather than him judging others dancing on Strictly. Miss Hannigan was my favourite character, and he sang really well, pretending to be drunk in my favourite song, Little Girls. The President was more cheery than in real life, but it’s a kids’ show so you must make it cheery. I liked how they burst into the song Tomorrow to bring in the new jobs.