Currently playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Annie boasts an impressive cast including West End regular Sarah Ingram as Miss Hannigan. Sarah took time out of her busy schedule to discuss how she is making such an iconic character her own and what it is like working with such a young cast.
With Opening Night around the corner, how are rehearsals going?
Rehearsals are going great, we have just finished the technical period, and had our first Dress Run on Saturday. The entire process so far has been hard work but incredibly good fun. The whole cast are not only tremendously talented but very funny. And any actor will tell you a sense of humour is imperative for tech! It helps that the creative team are also so on top of their game that laughter has been ever-present.
Are you excited to be in Yorkshire?
To be honest the rehearsal schedule has been so intense, that apart from food shopping, a back massage and the obligatory quick after work sherry, I not sure that I am aware I am in Yorkshire yet! However I can say that I love Leeds, and am really looking forward to taking full advantage of this beautiful city once we are up and running. I also love the moors and have stayed in Haworth a few times whilst working in Bradford, so I will be off over there as soon as possible. It is stunning, and really Christmassy! Gets ya right in’t mood !
Miss Hannigan is such an iconic role: have you found it hard to make the character your own?
If I am completely honest, that is the question that ran through my head repeatedly when I was offered the job. I mean no one will ever top Carol Burnett in the film. But then you realise that that is not your job. Nikolai Foster, our stunning director, has such vision and imagination that the world he has created feels brand new; therefore the character that I play is, hopefully, the right one for that world. The advantage that I have is that a very high percentage of my career has been brand new work, so I approached this role the same way I have approached any role. I ripped her apart and, fingers crossed, put her back together again to fit this production and tell her story. I find her a very complex, sad and fascinating creature, so getting into that psyche and routing around is my kind of fun. Did I mention I am a geek!
Much of the cast consists of young performers, how do you find working with children?
I know it may sound like the answer I am supposed to give, but I really do love working with them. Baring in mind I do the majority of my show with them I guess it is good job! These kids are just wonderful; they are so on it, full of energy and pure joy. It has made rehearsals, for me, quite long because we have two sets of twenty, so we obviously rehearse everything twice. Then we have the school schedule to work around, so evening sessions began almost immediately. Yet when you think they have done a full day at school then arrive at the theatre bouncing with excitement, I am in awe. Their energy is so infectious that you realise you are less tired than when you started. To see the process through their eyes reminds you why you did it in the first place. They are like sponges, everything that comes out of Nikolai’s mouth seeps into them. It is the same with our Choreographer Nick Winston and George Dyer our MD. The numbers that they do in the show are so exciting and innovative you get such a buzz from watching them. And having 40 kids in the room has meant we so-called grown ups have to be on our best behaviour. Not a bad thing at all!
Is this particular production of Annie much different from the original film that many people will know and love?
Well of course what many people may not know, is Annie was a very successful stage show way before the film. So for example, “ Let’s go to the movies” a song from the film, replaced ‘NYC” in the show. We do NYC, which, thanks to Nick Winston, is a spectacular montage of one evening on the streets of the Big Apple. However the show has all same ingredients. The feisty young orphan with the unrelenting optimism, which changes the lives of all she encounters, Daddy Warbucks Duncan Preston the self made tycoon whose heart she melts. The villains, Hannigan, Rooster Darren Bennett Lily Emma Barton and all the other amazing characters she meets on her journey. The story is timeless, relevant and heart-warming; this production is imaginative, mammoth and very very real. All your favourite songs are there, so you won’t feel cheated on that front, but the production seems to pinpoint so much in the story. With Colin Richmond’s astonishing design, as dark and hopeless as the Orphans world is, is as grand and hopeful as the Fifth Avenue world is. Let’s face it, as we all live through this global recession, to see such an optimistic piece about the Great Depression does nothing other than inspire!
You have had a very successful career- what inspired you to get into theatre?
Thank you, for the first time you may get a short answer. My parents sent me to Dancing when I was 3yrs old, because I was a hyperactive pain in the behind! I still am! I was always an imaginative kid, and it is the one place where imagination is rife. I loved how I felt when I watched it, I still do, and loved how I felt when I did it, and I still do. At the risk of being a cliché, I always felt at home on stage, so I guess it picked me not the other way around. I was always the class clown, and loved making people laugh, when I found out you could get paid for it, what the hell else was I supposed to do? Plus, I don’t think I can do anything else!
Has there been a particular highlight that stands out whilst playing Miss Hannigan?
So far they are only rehearsal related, I am hoping getting out in front of an audience tomorrow will be the greatest to date! But my highlights so far must be, A. Getting the role, (she has been on my list for many years) B. The first time I did “Little Girls” in the room and C. Once I realised that Nick Winston wanted Hannigan to be triple threat role, and being the wrong side of 40, I can still hurl myself around without a paramedic in the room!
Have any extra touches been made to Annie to make it feel particularly Festive?
The joy of doing this show at Christmas is that you don’t have to add touches, it is festive, and it takes place in the two weeks leading up to Christmas. So we have the most beautiful 25ft tree, with all the trimmings, in the last few scenes. It is a Christmas story of hope and new beginnings.
If you had to pick your favourite scene, which would it be and why?
That is a tricky Question! To do, I would say my scenes with Lily and Rooster, and Grace Farrell (the amazing Verity Rushworth) also all the scenes with the kids. To watch, without a doubt, the NBC Radio scene at the top of Act 2. It is comic genius and every character portrayed by our company is a piece of detailed perfection I am not sure I have ever witnessed. But I cannot finish this question without referring to the blubbering mess I am in EVERY time I watch our gentle giant, Duncan Preston, duet with either of our mind-blowing Annies! This is some piece of Theatre and I feel so proud and lucky to be part of it!
Annie is running at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 21st November - 15th December