South Shields Grammar-Technical School for Boys  
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School Production of "Annie"

10th, 11th & 12th March 2003

I was in Shields last week to spend a little time at the school, and to attend the last night of the school's production of "Annie".

There has been a production every year at least since 1995 - Lessons in Love (1995), Grease (1996), Joseph & His Amazing Coat (1997), Babes in the Wood (1998), Snow White (1999), Rocky Monster Show (2000), Bugsy Malone (2001), Guys and Dolls (2002) and Annie (2003). None of these are particularly easy shows to put on - and Annie is no exception ... there are numerous scene changes, and two powerful lead characters (Mrs Hannigan and Annie herself) which can be daunting for young people to take on.

Sitting in the old school hall (I was in the front row) brought back many memories - when the house lights went off one by one, I remembered what a disaster the old house-lights dimmer was, and we too had to resort to turning off the lights one by one.

The show started with a grand-piano overture (with solo violin, introducing the Sun'll Come Up theme), and the curtain opened in a blackout. As the lights came up, we were in the orphanage, and the simple but effective set made the stage seem bigger than I remembered.

The show itself had more enthusiasm than I could have imagined, although it did seem as though a couple of the boys had bit of a problem losing their inhibitions - I suspect that it's not so easy to get boys to appear on stage.

What a couple of these boys lacked in confidence and projection, the two leading girls (Candice McRae as Annie, and Michaela Stewart as Miss Hannigan) made up for in spades. When Michaela Stewart was on stage, it wasn't just the girls in the orphanage that paid attention - bottle in hand, she really was every inch the tyranical mistress. And when she sang, it was everything it should be, and more - all this from a girl in year 10 - I really do take my hat off to her.

Candice McRae as Annie really looked the part too - red wig, cute face, and every bit the audacious little orphan, really believing that her parents were still alive. It's a tough role in many ways, not least of which is because everyone knows The Sun'll Come Out, Tomorrow. But she played the part with confidence and feeling - and what a wonderful singing voice she had too.

Andrew Walker looked just right for the millionaire (sorry, billionaire), Mr Warbucks - and Grace Farrell was the perfect secretary, Libby Walker.

The rogue brother of Mrs Hannigan, Rooster Hannigan, was played by Lisa-Marie Gorman. From my own time at the school, when it was all boys, I had long come to accept boys playing female parts (I did it myself, once, in my mother's gold dress!), but here was a girl playing a male part ... and she did it well. The "dippy" blonde was played, with a sense of humour and timing, by Ashley Brennan.

Annie is set in America, and so American accents are required. Although we did have a mixture of regions (from New York to Texas), the accents were consistent throughout, and that's no mean feat! I asked one of the cast later where they got the accents from ... "TV" came the answer.

Of course, no show goes on without a few wrinkles - we had a fit of giggles towards the end, and a few glitches with the lights. There was also quite an ambitious use of microphones, which didn't quite work on occasions (personal radio mics, in particular, are really a very ambitious choice for a small stage, and require very careful positioning on the body to maintain constant pick-up).

But did anyone notice? I doubt it very much. I only noticed because I've worked in TV and radio for 35 years, and it certainly didn't spoil the show in any way whatsoever.

The whole event was great fun, and I know just how much work goes into such an event. The back-stage staff, the support staff and even the very important ushers (dressed very smartly in their bow-ties) contribute a lot of their time to make it work ... and that, it most certainly did.

And if anyone from the cast, the back-stage or front-of-house crew read this, let me know!

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