Thursday, 19 May 2011

Annie by The Eastbourne Stagers Devonshire Park Theatre Eastbourne

The Eastbourne Stagers
Devonshire Park Theatre

17-21 May 2011
Performance seen 19th May

You don't get a great oak tree without planting an acorn. Equally, professional performers don't just appear out of thin air. They all have to be amateur performers beforehand. I don't really like the word amateur though. It always has that 'not very good' sound to it even though this is never the case with either The Eastbourne Stagers or The Rattonians.

The price of a ticket to this musical was a maximum of £14. Less than half the price of a comparable 'professional' production. I often wonder if people think the price level is directly related to the amount of enjoyment they will get from a show? If I am being honest up to about 4 years ago I had never seen any 'amateur' production, probably thinking along the same lines. Having now enjoyed so many great musicals staged by Eastbourne's talented 'amateurs' I now feel like I've been theatrically deprived for many years.

I think I raise this subject on every Stagers or Rattonians review. But if you think that amateur in name means a lack of entertainment value what I would say is "don't knock it unless you've tried it". If you miss Annie then the next Eastbourne Stagers show is going to be the music of Madness based musical Our House in September. Anybody who is familiar with Our House and saw what the Eastbourne Stagers did with their previous shows Footloose and Summer Holiday must know this should suit them down to the ground.

So Annie is yet another musical by The Stagers that I had never seen before (that won't be the case with Our House though!). Set in the 1920's, in New York, we have our young cute, curly redhead Annie in her lucky 'escape' from a nightmare orphanage to live in the lap of luxury with a billionaire. Meanwhile a search is undertaken for her natural parents.

This evenings performance was so close to getting a perfect review, but sadly much of the spoken dialogue was drowned out by the orchestra, especially in the first half.

The lead characters all have microphones and these were fine at being heard over the music. Equally the group musical numbers were heard without a hitch. However many of the young ensemble, who had spoken lines, had to rely on their small voices projecting around the auditorium whilst competing with an almost continuously playing band. Even with just a keyboard playing spoken paragraphs were lost in full. The lips moved but not a word could be identified.

This wasn't a case of not enough gain on the microphones, just a case of not enough microphones. I noticed a few cast members trying to share mikes, that didn't work either.

Obviously it all comes down to the funds The Stagers have available for productions together with any goodwill companies can give. If these reviews do happen to be read by anybody in Eastbourne who can help these hard working youngsters be heard better and therefore appreciated more I'm sure they'd appreciate any help.

I know I wasn't isolated in feeling this was the one major issue of the evening. Our elderly guest who we took along mentioned it and from conversations with others I am aware this was raised on the Monday performance too.

I'll get my other, supremely trivial but none the less annoying, moan out of the way now also. Not down to the equipment or cast this time but down to the simple act of a knock on a door. Please when the door is on the far left of the stage could the knocking please not come from the far right? Even the cast member who is due to enter the door could surely knock on something for the sound?

But that's the only things I have problems with - equipment and knockers!

Everything else was utterly excellent entertainment and I have to say the sound issue was far less evident in the second half both because of more group singing or the lead characters, wearing the microphones, were performing the numbers.

Like The Rattonians the Eastbourne Stagers are a huge company yet they made very good use of the relatively small Devonshire Park Theatre stage and even in the most populated scenes it never appeared overcrowded.

As always there are plenty of laughs in this Stagers show and it is always refreshing to hear the huge cheers this cast receives from friends, family and appreciative visitors as the show progresses.

Once again every cast member knows their strengths and weaknesses . Those that wouldn't want a major acting role are quite happy to be dancing and singing in the ensemble. Those who have had lead roles in other productions happily letting others have a turn in this show.

Notable performances? I hate picking out anybody as it really is down to a great performance and sheer hard work by all involved. But this was so well cast I feel duty bound to give a few mentions.

Dave Nicholles is always a star and tonight was no exception as he plays tycoon Daddy Warbucks. He was also all we heard about on the 15 or so mile journey home from our elderly friend. What a nice smile he has, how handsome he is, what a lovely man he is.......... I did wonder if she was actually paying attention to anything else for two and a half hours? But hey she's a happy theatregoer and Dave has at least one groupie!

Jane James, what a great nasty, evil Miss Hannigan she was. I thought if there was ever a musical version of Matilda she'd be a fab Miss Trunchball ! And Jane in the nicest possible way that is a compliment. I love that movie and I'd be fussy about who had that role!

Tiffany Da Silva is terrific as she takes the role of  sweet Grace this time. Gareth Brighton as alleged hard man (but really hapless man) Rooster is hilarious. Good also to see Nikki Brook having much more of a leading role as Rooster's chick (pun purely a fluke) Lily St Regis.

Julian Message I thought looked great as President Roosevelt. I thought this quirky character brought a lot of fun into the second half. The 'cabinet' scene will be remembered as one of the funniest of the show.

A canine moment now. In the last few years I have seen many dogs on stage and none of them have looked particularly comfortable at being there. Except for Sandy who is played by Jonah in Annie. Now I don't know who owns Jonah but what a well behaved, tolerant, obedient dog! Often just sitting or laying down he stayed calm even in very active scenes with shouting when many a dog would have barked. A real star - give that dog a bone!

The orphans (not including Annie yet) , bless them, they are all wonderful and super little singers. But there was a little scene stealer who I think captured the heart of everybody watching and incredibly this was her first Stagers production. Referring back to Matilda young Josie Mead reminded me so much of a young Mara Wilson who played the lead role in the 1996 movie. Similar in looks, confidence in performing, excellent presentation and that same cheeky charm I could see a little star in the making tonight.

I can't run through all the company but, as they always do , everybody worked really hard and fully deserved their loud applause and cheers at the end.

The band are rarely mentioned in reviews but I just wanted to say well done to conductor Daniel Goodger and the rest of the musicians as you are always brilliant and there would be no show without you.

But the name of the musical is Annie and the outstanding star of this show is Hannah Turner. For a young performer this must surely be one of the most demanding roles in any musical?

Hannah you looked the part completely, you sang your heart out note perfect for over 2 hours and you remained perfectly audible at all times. In short I think you put in an incredible performance. Well done! You impressed many people this week and you must have some very proud parents!

Finally well done to The Stagers directors, Luisa Veitch and Nathan Morris and to everybody else behind the scenes for once again demonstrating the great talent , young and old, that exists in and around Eastbourne.

We will see you in September for Our House and I hope that many others will read this and join us!
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