Anne of Green Gables
Lucy Maud Montgomery, adapted by Emma Reeves
Linbury Studio, Sadler's Wells
You can't help but fall in love with Anne Shirley, the tomboyish heroine of Anne of Green Gables. This is a testament to a wonderful central performance from carrot-haired Ruth Gibson but also a timeless tale with a dash of the Novel Theatre formula.
The company already has Little Women playing in the West End (at the Duchess). Writer Emma Reeves and director, Andrew Loudon have now found another Nineteenth Century North American tearjerker as a kind of little sister.
It is likely that this is how little orphan Anne, a great fantasist, would see it, as she loves naming everything. She arrives in Avonlea straight from an orphanage in Nova Scotia, much to the disappointment of bluff Matthew and stern Marilla Cuthbert.
They are an ageing brother and sister played by David Baron and Jenny Lee, the latter struggling with her Canadian accent, who had ordered "a smart, likely boy of thirteen or so" to help out on the farm but instead got themselves a dreamy, wilful girl with a fiery temper.
The play then follows the redhead through her teen years. She is accident prone but also heroic. Not everyone can almost drown while re-enacting a tale of Arthur's Lancelot, dye half her hair green and then save the life of a baby girl.
She is loquacious to the point of verbal diarrhoea and makes friends and enemies with equal alacrity, generally of the same people! This is a dual consequence of precocious intelligence and remarkable stubbornness.
From humble beginnings, Anne eventually becomes the star of her year at college but, after a tragic event, proves excessively noble before inevitably getting the boy that she had spurned for an age.
The plot can be overly sentimental but the heroine can still talk to her peers today. This is made clear by a parallel plot that doesn't entirely work about a Russian immigrant to Yorkshire (judging by the accents) who is bullied by her xenophobic classmates but escapes into the novel.
The transitions into the past can be reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz and the little Russian girl gains confidence, watching over her heroine. However, the Yorkshire story itself is sub-Grange Hill.
The production values are high with a bright, attractive set that looks like something from a children's animated cartoon and a capella singing from the ensemble led by the sweet-voiced Beccy Armory.
Novel Theatre is beginning to develop a style that has many devoted fans. They are not afraid to trade on sentimentality and escapism. A measure of their success is the way in which audience members are surreptitiously forced to wipe away tears. Long may they continue to do so.
Take a look at our Special Offers page for £5 off off-peak tickets for "Anne of Green Gables"
Reviewer: Philip Fisher