Theatre Review: Anne of Green Gables, Guildhall Theatre, DerbyLIVE

DerbyLIVE theatre
Anne of Green Gables, Redhead Reach Productions

Anne of Green Gables, the classic novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery is one of my favourite books of all time. I loved Kevin Sullivan’s 1985 spectacular TV mini-series and the theatre production by Redhead Reach (in association with Found Theatre) is a faithful adaptation of Sullivan’s offering.

Showing at the historic Guildhall Theatre in Derby, the 140 minute production kicked off with orphan Anne being transported to Avonlea. If you’re unfamiliar with the story (read the book now, I beg you), here is a quick snapshot. Anne is a spirited, imaginative little girl, being passed from pillar to post in search of a family via adoption. She is mistakenly sent to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a brother and sister in their 60s living in sleepy Avonlea, who are expecting a boy to help on the farm. We accompany Anne on her rites of passage journey as she flourishes from loveable loose cannon to intelligent teacher in-waiting. From dying her hair green, to being teased by potential beau Gilbert Blyth, each scene comes alive through the talent of the brilliant acting team.

I’ll be honest – I was dreading Matthew Cuthbert’s death. Yes, I did shed a tear, due to Phillip Jennings’ poignant portrayal; the scene of Matthew’s ghost bidding Anne goodbye was truly heartbreaking.

The props are good and the singing crew provide an intelligent segue into each scene. For a few heavenly hours, I forgot I was in Derby, instead imagining I was part of Anne and her cool crew. The Lady of Shalott scene was inspired, where we didn’t actually see Anne drowning. However we “saw” the scene unfold through Diana’s pitch perfect recital. It is talent like this which makes me fall in love with theatre all over again.

Nearly every scene is faithful to the TV series. I was mentally quoting characters before they had spoken, which shows my passion for the beloved TV series. And this theatre production doesn’t disappoint. With a compact cast of five members playing a host of characters (including a witty take on Ruby Gillis by Alexander Clifford), this is one very special theatre production. Collene Webb shines as Anne, although there are some instances when it feels like she is a caricature of the main protagonist. Vicki Glover as Diana Barry (and Rachel Lynde) is sublime. I can’t give you one highlight in the show – there were too many to mention.

Thank you to DerbyLIVE for hosting a fantastic production. Redhead Reach is currently touring, performing Anne of Green Gables in Bakewell, Wolverhampton, Bridgnorth and Penzance. I strongly urge you to make the journey to see this production – it is highly entertaining and a joy to watch.

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*Featured Image by Ian Macaulay. Copyright C L Webb*