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Annie - June 2015

"On Thursday 11th June I was lucky enough to attend the first night of Encore’s production of Annie (by arrangement with Josef Weinberger Ltd) at the Castleford Phoenix Theatre and had a wonderful evening.  Directed by Andy Lunn with Sarah Crowley as MD this show presented a clever and very entertaining staging of the popular musical.  Even before the show started we were treated to what was to come as ‘Annie’ made the health and safety announcements and was soon shouted at by ‘Miss Hannigan’ –   immediately the audience knew this production was more than promising.

All the girls cast as orphans gave an excellent opening, with clear delivery and well performed dance numbers – congratulations to Choreographer Bev Maher, whose routines made excellent use of the stage and the differing abilities of the performers throughout the show.

The set design and build was exceptionally clever and made great use of this modern theatre space.  The Hooverites, Cabinet, Servants and New Yorkers moved and managed the props and set seamlessly moving us from location to location – this was very well thought through and executed beautifully.  Working with the sympathetic lighting and the clear sound the production was both a visual and auditory success.

The band, though out of sight, played the popular score very well - they seamlessly blended into the production and worked well with the voices of the cast.  The costumes were great and perfect for the period.

All of the performers were well cast - Andrew Sheppard and Clare Heins held the audience with their strong portrayals of Oliver Warbucks and Grace Farrell.  Dale Vaughan (Rooster) and Sarah Clarkson (Lily St Regis) were incredibly entertaining and perfect stooges for Eleanor Aldous whose drunken portrayal of Miss Hannigan was so good it left me wondering if there really was gin in the bottle?

The final word really must be about the star of the show, 10 year old Libby Pawson, who gave an excellent performance in the title role.  This was Libby’s first show with the Society, but it was wonderful and I hope there will be many more.  Her clear and thoughtful delivery of her lines demonstrated a maturity beyond her years and she sang the songs beautifully.  Throughout the show she showed the audience that she had an understanding of the character and a clever grasp of the American accent.  She was word perfect and without any sign of pretention.  She held the audiences’ attention throughout and worked well with the only member of the cast who showed any lack of confidence (Max the dog!).  When we thought she had put all her talents into the role she then gave a wonderful tap dance in the final number - an excellent Annie.

Everyone involved gave their all and this was very much appreciated by the audience.  Congratulations to all the Production Team, the Band, the Cast and Crew on this wonderful production.
Jo Sykes, Youth Adviser for North East England, National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA)

"In order to produce a good “Annie” you have to have a great little girl to play the leading role, she has to be able to learn lines, not be fazed by a large audience watching her, and be able to sing, dance and also be able to do all these convincingly. Well Encore need not have any worries when they decided to give this part to 10 year old Libby Pawson, she was superb, not only could she sing, dance, act and be convincing but she could do it all with a very large smile on her face.

Libby’s acting skills came into its own when working with Max, the dog played by….. Max, the dog, he was a lovely little West Highland White, or at least he looked like one and I apologise to Max if I have got his breed wrong, who wasn’t too sure about coming on to the stage and leaving the comfort of a gentlemen who was holding him. Libby, however, was able to show her talents when with a little encouragement of some treats from her pocket she enticed him to go with her.

Libby was only one of a group of talented youngsters in this show and when they were on stage they all gave very convincing performances, especially 7 year old Felicity Mitson who played Molly who I am sure will be playing “Annie” in the not too distant future.

All in all there were 26 little girls playing the orphans plus Libby as Annie who all deserved Oscars for their performances, well done kids.

I have seen Annie several times and I have to say all too often Miss Hannigan is played rolling around the stage as if she is much too drunk to do anything, well in this production Eleanor Aldous was much more subtle and although yes everyone knew she was a lush she was not rolling around incapable let alone control a bunch of unruly orphans. Eleanor was able to bring everything out of this character especially the humour which is sometimes lost in the drunkenness.

As Miss Hannigan’s accomplices we have Rooster Hannigan played by Dale Vaughan, Dale was able to get every ounce out of this part and it was good to see someone who could also dance which is not always the case when performing Easy Street. Dale was able to perform this with ease and was joined by Sarah Clarkson as Lily St. Regis who again was able to perform this to give a very professional performance of this number.

The role of Grace Farrell calls for someone who can be very “motherly” towards Annie but also at the same time needs to be very professional as Oliver Warbuck’s Secretary, Clair Heins was exactly this and was able to give a great performance not only as the secretary but also with her singing and dancing skills.

When little Annie meets Oliver, Daddy Warbucks, he comes over as a very unfriendly, pompous man who could quite easily scare Annie away. Andrew Sheppard was perfect in this part, initially being the pompous business man but then becoming this very warm fatherly figure who Annie loves and indeed wants him to be the father she never had and this shows none more so than when they sing “Together at Last” right at the end of the show.
I have to mention the set of this show, something which I do not always talk about but here we had a very ingenious set which although was very simple was also very complex at the same time, all the beds fitted neatly into the staging as did all the chairs and other bits and pieces used throughout the show. The scene changes very extremely slick performed by the cast themselves to a solitary clarinetist who entered the stage at each scene change, a very inventive idea.

The orchestra under the baton of Sarah Crowley proved to be a great asset to this show, unlike many they actually supported the actors on stage and did not drown them out during any numbers.

Congratulations to all involved on a superb production".
Les Smith, NODA

"What a fantastc show! Thoroughly entertaining from start to finish; one of the best I've seen from ETC. Everyone played their part thoroughly professionally, but no doubt who the star was! Young Libby led the way brilliantly, closely followed by the rest of the orphans! The grown ups were pretty damn good too, and of course the musicians, even the dog! Well done everyone!" John Harvey

"What an amazing show. THE best one yet. All the cast were fantastic and Annie herself deserves an Oscar for her performance. Really well done ETC" Hannah Hirst

"Just have to say what an awesome show this is. I was part of the 2002 Annie show and have many happy memories of the show and fellow cast members but I think the standard has moved on again. Congratulations to everyone, I've really enjoyed myself today" Geoff Sherwood

"Thanks for a great night out watching some brilliant performances x" Teri Aldous

"One word....AMAZING!" Mel Hume

"The show was fantastic! Your best yet. Well done everyone xxx" Alison Wagstaff

"I went with my friend last Friday to see the show Annie, by the Encore Theatre Company. We both thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, what a glorious production. We wish to convey our heartfelt congratulations to everyone involved in this show. The whole cast was superb, the children were a joy, especially Annie herself. We especially enjoyed the comedy courtesy of Miss Hannigan, her brother and his girlfriend, brilliantly played. I have been going to see this company for many years, as my niece is one of the leading players, and I have to say, if you didn’t see this show, you missed a treat, the best one ever.  WELL DONE TO ALL CONCERNED!!!" Shirley Bell

"Such a good show! Well done to everyone, you were all so amazing!" Lizzie Marris

"Fantastic! Well done everybody!!! It was brill! xxx" Jacqueline Ingle

"Just brilliant. Well done to every one of you" Shelley Hanslip


Cinderella - December 2014

"Being a big kid at heart when it comes to pantomimes I was looking forward to this my second one of the season and I was not disappointed. This one started out a little differently with the Fairy Godmother appearing on screens at either side of the stage. A little different again as not only were two ugly sisters played by men but also the Fairy Godmother and I have to say it worked extremely well.

There were all the usual “He’s behind you” gags you would expect in any panto and the whole audience, not only the kids loved it from start to finish. In the principal boy and girl parts we had Nicole Walton as Cinderella and Clare Heins as Prince Charming who worked extremely well together to make a perfect couple. Of course no Cinderella is complete without a Buttons and here we had Thomas Flowers as a young Buttons who was able to work the audience well and prove to be a good pal to his love interest Cinders.

Another character needed in this panto is of course Dandini, Prince Charming’s assistant, played by Debbie Hair who proved to be a very good partner to Clare Heins as Charming; both were the typical “leggy” girl you would expect for these parts. In the parts of Baron Hardup and his wicked wife were Trevor Jones and Sue Sheppard respectively, they were both able to bounce off each other to get the most out of their parts, the Baroness of course has two “daughters” who are not very nice to say the least to poor old Cinders. I say “daughters” as I guessed they were both played again by men in the guise of Richard Goodall and Dale Vaughan, I suspect one had not been taking her hormone tablets resulting in a very bearded lady!

I enjoyed the performances from Sarah Clarkson and Emily Speake as Bib and Bob respectively, they were a great double act and had the audience laughing whenever they came onto the stage.

I said at the start of my review the Fairy Godmother was played by a guy, Paul Barron and to me he was the star of this show, from the moment he appeared he had the audience in the palm of his hands, they loved him and quite rightly too as he worked his socks off, or should that be tights off, from start to finish, he was excellent. I really enjoyed the transformation scene where Cinderella is transformed into the beautiful princess for the ball, this was different in the fact that it was done by video with Cinders walking off stage and into this sort of fairy land to be dressed in her best ball gown and into her crystal coach, the effects department had done a great job of this. Congratulations to all involved and the cast who not only performed but then lined up to say good bye to the audience"
Les Smith, NODA

"Congratulation Encore. I had great fun watching your final performance. Talk about packing in the content. Brilliant. A great touch getting all high tech with fairy cam & I loved the scooter chase. I hope you all enjoyed your much deserved after show party. Encore Rocks!" Paul Forsberg

"A fabulous evening full of fun, laughter and enjoyment. A brilliant night out for all the family" Julie Maddison, Selby

"Have to say the showing tonight of Cinderella was FANTASTIC, great entertainment for all the family, 3 generations! x"
Nicola Baker

"Fantastic show everyone was brilliant!!!"
Rachael Jaggar

"Fantastic we loved the show well done everyone xx"
Alison Wagstaff

"Fab evening watching my friend Nicole being amazing as Cinderella!! Huge thanks to Fairy G & Bib n Bob for all the laughs!!"
Ellen Elizabeth Boon

"Absolutely brilliant evening watching Cinderella last night. Havnt laughed so much like that in a long time. May have found a yearly panto to attend! Even converted some southerners to enjoy the northern humour" Samantha Anne Broome

Carousel - June 2014

"Performing on a school hall stage can be a problem for some societies but when you have an imaginative director who designed the set for this show it does make life much easier and also lends to a better show, it was great to see the raised level being used to such a good degree which added to the already good performances from the whole cast.

Carousel calls for a strong leading man and in this one we had just that in the guise of Dale Vaughan as Billy Bigalow, he was able to deliver his lines perfectly as well as the songs, Dale also delivered the soliloquy with ease. Dale was partnered with Vikki Vaughan who played Julie Jordan to perfection; she was able to deliver the songs and her lines with a meaningful attitude which the audience loved.

The other partnership is of course Carrie Pipperidge played by Clare Heins and Enoch Snow played by Richard Goodall, both gave very convincing performances and worked well together, I especially enjoyed Richard’s singing and his nervous laugh which he did when his character became a little embarrassed.

There was also a fine performance from Phil Clarkson as Jigger Craigin, his smoldering looks and gruff voice was a perfect combination for this part, especially in his scene with Carrie when he was teaching her how to defend herself.

Praise must be given to the dancers in the beach ballet, this can sometimes be a little long and tedious but not so in this case when they entered the stage from under the higher level which lent itself to a raised walkway on the beach.

One of the highlights of this show is of course “You’ll never walk Alone” and this was delivered to excellently by Rebecca Atha as Nettie Fowler, she was able to provide a good support to Julie after the death of Billy and almost brought the house down when she sang this song.

The backing for this show was provided by a nine piece strong orchestra, having such a large backing can in some cases can be a little over powering for audiences trying to hear the singing on stage, this was not the case here and it was good to have one which actually accompanied the singers rather than drown them out and also deliver a great sound.

Congratulations to all involved in this production
Les Smith, NODA

"Tell you the truth, when it comes to anything 'Entertainment' I'm pretty hard to please.. I went to see Carousel last night minus camera, and I enjoyed every moment sitting back relaxing and watching the show. I left the Theatre feeling happy.. Encore, you have done a great job with this one."
Roy Hampson

"Just want to say how much I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of Carousel! I went with my colleagues on the 14th of June and loved every minute of it. Once again, a first class production by talented performers!"
Julie Copley

"Fantastic show....well done to each and every one of you involved"
Diane Bond

"ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT!!! A spectacular performance"
Kerry Chapman

"Carousel was fantastic! The acting, singing and dancing were so professional.  My daughter and I enjoyed it as much as any of the West End shows we have seen."
Mrs M Hind

"I go to the theatre regularly and this was the best show I have ever seen, I could not fault anything. The singing was beautiful, I loved the orchestra and arrangement of the stage.  Altogether a great evening- well done Encore!"
Mrs Joan Slater

"A massive well done to everyone in Encore Theatre Company. A truly fantastic show!"
Ben Gomersall