annieYOU’D be hard pushed to find any person over the age of the age of 20 who hasn’t seen the film Annie. In fact as I sat in the Grand Opera House, Belfast for the opening night I was surprised to see so many young children eagerly awaiting the curtain call.

For many watching Annie as a child is a rite of passage that is passed down from generation to generation and is still as magical today as it was in 1982. The story of Little Orphan Annie is a classic tale of an unloved child finding happiness in a world filled with hopelessness and despair.

And although set during the Great Depression in America, the message of Annie still rings true today. Having watched the film at least once every Christmas since I was a child, I was excited to finally see it on stage – it didn’t disappoint. As soon as the children belted out Hard Knock Life I was hooked.

The orphans, played by children from Stagecoach Theatre Arts School in Belfast, were every bit as adorable and endearing as their movie counterparts. The child who played Molly was particularly charming. But it was Annie who stole the show.

From the opening bars of Maybe – my favourite song from the musical – young actress Lydia Tunstall had my full attention. Playing the title role with confidence, humour and innocence, Lydia’s Annie dazzled the audience with her sincerity.

Taking on the role of evil Miss Hannigan is the wonderful Su Pollard. Although not as sinister as Carol Burnett in the film adaptation, Pollard’s portrayal of the drunken orphanage owner is both comical and entertaining.

Miss Hannigan’s attempts to make it to Easy Street add light relief but the audience is more than pleased when she gets her comeuppance along with her conniving brother Rooster and his lover Lily St Regis.

Coming to the rescue of Annie, are industrial tycoon Oliver Warbucks (David McAlister) and his trusted assistant Grace Farrell (Simone Craddock), who looks remarkably like Ann Reinking from the film.

Taking Annie in over Christmas, the billionaire comes to love the child as his own and the scenes they are share are some of the best in the production.

Appearances by President Franklin D Roosevelt, quirky butler Drake and Sandy the Dog complete the musical and the final number A Deal For Christmas, with the stunning Christmas Tree closes the show with gusto.

Safe in the knowledge that Annie gets her happy ending, I left the theatre looking forward to watching the film yet again this Christmas, but this time with my niece.
By Andrea Clarke

Where: Grand Opera House
When: Tuesday 22nd – 26th September 2009
Ticket info: 028 9024 1919