Anita Dobson comes to Manchester with the musical tour of Annie

Anita Dobson as Miss Hannigan.
Credit: Matt Crockett Dewynters

Anita Dobson as Miss Hannigan. Credit: Matt Crockett Dewynters - Credit: Archant

Anita Dobson has had an extraordinary career on stage and screen and now brings her undoubted talents to Manchester, in the touring production of Annie.

Anita Dobson as Miss Hannigan
Credit: Matt Crockett Dewynters

Anita Dobson as Miss Hannigan Credit: Matt Crockett Dewynters - Credit: Archant

Coming direct from London’s West End to Manchester this month, Annie has been described as ‘a glorious revival’ and has attracted not only the marvellous Ms. Dobson, but also the Strictly judge they all want to please, Craig Revel-Horwood, to the role of Miss Hannigan, the wicked doyenne of the orphanage where the unfortunate Annie resides. I wondered why, when at an age where most of us would be dreaming of lazing the days away in a well-earned retirement, Anita Dobson is prepared to take on the stresses and strains of life on the road again, performing nine shows a week in a musical where she’s a major character.

‘I just am grateful people are still offering me jobs,’ Anita laughs. ‘The only real power you have as a performer is no. You know what you don’t want to do and you know what you do, so if people offer you something and it doesn’t ring any bells with you then you might turn it down, but if people offer you a job and you just go “oh my goodness I’d love to do that” – as was the case with Annie – then you know you’re going to accept it. They just rang me up and asked me how I would feel about playing Miss Hannigan and I thought I’m not going to look back on my career and think “Really? Did you turn that down?!” so I said yes, I’d love to.

Softly spoken (with that unmistakeable voice) and bubbling with enthusiasm, Anita is thoroughly lovely and it’s easy to forget quite how famous and respected she is. I’m curious to know how she copes with the challenges of touring, which can’t be easy.

‘I did a lot of it when I was younger; I was in rep a lot so I was all over the place in different theatres, but as you get older of course you don’t want to go away from home so much and when you’re doing telly and filming you’re only away for short bursts – but this was really a part I couldn’t say no to, and it’s only three months.’

I can’t say I blame her; Annie is an iconic show, and I bet you can sing at least one line from ‘Tomorrow’, even if you have never seen it.

‘People want it, people love it. Everyone I have spoken too, who has asked what I am up to, when I have said “Oh, I’m doing Annie,” they’ve all said “Oh, I love it!” so obviously there’s a great demand for the show and it’s a favourite and I think, really, it’s because there’s kids in it and because it’s a good story and there’s good songs and it’s uplifting and, well, what’s not to like?’

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Anita was performing in Cinderella in Hull over the festive season and it is pantomime that she credits with her desire to become an actor.

‘I’ve always done pantomime, most of my career, and I think that’s where I got hooked. I was taken to see a pantomime at the age of four and it stayed with me and now of course here I am. I really think, if you catch them young then they’ll always love the theatre - musicals and pantomime and plays – it’s stories, it’s storytelling isn’t it?

‘Kids today are so talented; I look at these kids coming through and it takes my breath away; their voices, the way they dance, their ability to absorb things; it’s just wonderful and children give you as much as you give them. I learn as much from the kids as they would, hopefully, learn from me. I think it’s because children are so truthful – if they don’t like something or they don’t believe it they’ll tell you straight away, where other people perhaps wouldn’t, they might be kinder. And if you make them laugh they laugh uproariously, immediately, so for me I love it. There’s an old adage, isn’t there, ‘never work with children and animals’, and actually I think children and animals are wonderful to work with! I’ve worked with loads of kids and I just thing they’re magical – and I think that’s a lot of the reason Annie has stayed such a musical that’s in demand so much.’

It’s certainly in demand in Manchester, with tickets selling like the proverbial hot cakes, so if you fancy seeing an icon of British stage and screen play a grand role in a grand show, book your tickets, fast!

Annie plays from 2 to 16 February, at Manchester Opera House