INSTITUTIONAL terror, mental torture, young imaginations shrunk thanks to the evil scheming of unscrupulous

adults . . .

Yes, Annie is back and we should all be grateful.

Children, as we know, are well equipped to deal with tales of hardship, the incessant battle between good and evil, and Annie does an excellent job of taking young minds into this thoroughly warped world.

And while the story may be set in 1930s New York during the Depression, where we see orphan Annie trapped, we can see relevance today. Annie lives in an orphanage run by a woman who is almost as scary as Suella Braverman. Annie doesn’t have to rely upon a foodbank but she is entirely starved of love.

And Miss Hannigan’s liquor consumption levels certainly add weight to our government’s argument that only by choking the supply of alcohol can we fully progress as a society. (Maybe).

Yet, what Annie does so brilliantly is remind us all that fortunes can change, because life is often a lottery.

Writer/creator Martin Charnin has told of how the story of the abandoned little girl, which emerged in comic strip form, grabbed him by the throat. “When I first encountered the book, entitled The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie, it just captivated me. And the next day, literally, I requested that my lawyer find out whether or not the rights were available.”

He added: “When you’re writing musicals you look for them wherever you can find them – in films, in short stories, in a painting, in a bubble gum wrapper, if it came to that. And at the time that I found ‘Annie’, in Christmas 1969, all of the rights to Dickens had been taken.”

What Charnin had been searching for was tales of abject poverty, themes of displacement and loveless lives. For Annie, however, hope is paramount and begins to emerge when we see the young girl win the chance to spend time with a benevolent, loveless old fella. “It looks pretty crummy out there,” said Charnin of the theatre world he set out to create, “but somebody is saying, ‘The sun will come out tomorrow.’ And that’s basically what the whole thrust of the writing experience ... was all about, that there is a better day around the corner.”

Paul O’Grady, who last played the grotesque Miss Hannigan back in 1998, has returned to the role (sharing the part on tour with Craig Revel Horwood).

O’Grady doesn’t miss the opportunity to hint at the essence of evil, while offering up enough of a cartoon performance that suggests that younger audience members won’t be hiding under their seats each time he/she appears. The one-time stand-up comedian who appeared as the acid-tongued Lily Savage and went on to become a nice and cheesy Radio 2 presenter, explains why he’s returned to the Miss H role after 25 years. “The producer got me drunk,” he says, grinning. “We’d been rehearsing and we went to the pub and we were just talking about musicals and I said – like a fool – that the only musical I’d ever do was Annie.

“So, then I was roped in. But because of work [commitments], I can only do seven weeks.” O’Grady hints we should all get along and enjoy his Miss Hannigan, before it’s too late.

“I’m old,” he says in overly dramatic voice. “I’ll be 68 next year.”

Annie shows at The Edinburgh Playhouse, March 21-25

Wild West Renfrewshire

FULL disclosure. I grew up in Johnstone so when it’s announced that a new stage show will premiere in the town featuring “cowboys and cattle rustlers” my initial thought was – that the writer knows West Renfrewshire well.

However, there is more to this production than a determined attempt to lampoon the darker underbelly of this town, which once gave us world-class engineering (John Lang), carpets (Stoddard), shoelaces (Paton’s) and women’s support garments (Playtex).

The theme of the show – created by award-winning dance collaborative, 21Common – is how poverty contributes to violence, and it adopts a wild west backdrop, which explains the cowboys, coyotes and cattle rustlers.

Common Is As Common Does – A Memoir is described as “a deep and dirty dive into a family circle that more often resembles a ring of fire”.

Great. We all love circling any idea which evokes a Johnny Cashness that’s “partly set in a saloon with crooner country classics, a speakeasy featuring brush/scuffing danceathons and a bare-knuckle boxing ring”.

The spokesperson for this co-commission with OneRen, a cultural regeneration partnership programme adds, rather intriguingly: “The audience will join the cast in their wild west sitting room with the ones who spit and the ones born to fight.”

Fighting, castle rustling and line dancing? And spitting. Certainly, all elemental features in the cultural life of Johnstone. And with a chance to link each to how societal improvements can be encouraged?

What’s not to like?

The show includes appearances by Gavin Mitchell, Neshla Caplan, Minnie Crook and Dan Brown. Johnstone Town Hall March 31 and April 1