It's the spring of 1936, the King has taken to partying with “an American Lady”, Europe is witnessing the rise of the Nazi Party… and an outspoken red-head, Anne, is given the chance of a new life away from the care home she occupies. Needless to say, all does not go smoothly; but with her open honesty and adventurous nature, she hopes to win the hearts of both her foster parents and the small Devon village she finds herself in.
Anne Drew, AnneDrew, Andrew... The foster parents were expecting a boy, and not one with fiery hair and freckles. Another local family, overrun with children, won't take her; on her first day of school she is sent home for not apologising, and she keeps disappearing to explore. In an age when children are to be seen not heard and little girls should be ladylike, she doesn't fit in. But as with all good orphan tales, she keeps trying, keeps getting in trouble, meets a host of new people… and might just manage to win a happy ending for her and the rest.
The cast range in age from just 8 to 21, but despite their youth they perform really well, unfazed by the occasional missed notes in solos and delivering powerful chorus songs. The choreography was highly impressive, with the chorus especially effective. Individually, Helena is a most graceful dancer, and the tap-dancing teacher is superb – although the decision to sing at the same time makes the lyrics very hard to hear, which could perhaps have been helped by the chorus joining in.
At 75 minutes, this is a long piece for the Fringe, and might have benefited from taking out one of the story arcs. And although there is some character development, particularly of Mrs Timms and the other children, Anne has the clichéd and precocious feel of a Mary Sue (and feels somewhat anachronistic for the 1930’s setting, too).
But this is absolutely a feel-good musical, very similar to Annie – even including the improbable meeting with a celebrity. If an all-singing, all-dancing show is what you want, then The Freckles Effect will not disappoint. A lively cast, a heart-warming story and a rousing score make this a well-done piece – and what few mistakes I saw can surely be forgiven, in the light of a young and talented cast.