Vivid characterisations and fine dancing from London Children’s Ballet in Anne of Green Gables

Peacock Theatre, London
May 28, 2022

London Children’s Ballet’s latest production, and the first under the artistic direction of Ruth Brill, Anne of Green Gables, is a gem. Zoë Vickerman, who wrote the scenario, and choreographer Jenna Lee have adapted the charming classic by Canadian author LM Montgomery into a top-notch full-length ballet. It has drama and humour, a clear narrative, great characterisations, excellent corps de ballet scenes, new music by Gus Nicholson that fits it like a glove, and in 13-year-old Annalise Wainwright-Jones, a wonderful Anne.

For those who have never seen London Children’s Ballet, put aside any preconceived notions of what ‘children’s ballet’ might be. The cast might all be aged 9-17, but they are truly talented and the company’s productions are as professional as they come. Anne of Green Gables oozes quality.

‘The White Way of Delight’ with Annalise Wainwright-Jones (Anne), centre
Photo Alice Pennefather

Although Lee and Vickerman have necessarily edited things down to fit into two 40-minute acts, they’ve done so in a way that keeps the heart of the tale firmly intact. While it’s all handled in a family-friendly way, the ballet is not over-sentimental and does not shy away from the story’s harder edges. The harsher side of orphanage life under its drunken director, including bullying, is shown vividly in a scene where Anne explains it all to Marilla Cuthbert, who was expecting to be sent a boy to adopt, and who, at that point, has only agreed to take her in for the night.

The red-haired, pigtailed Wainwright-Jones was excellent in the lead role. In the opening scenes, her confident thrusting handshake belied her underlying insecurity and loneliness, and need for a good friend. Once found in the shape of Matthew Cuthbert, Marilla’s brother, the perky Wainwright-Jones soon showed us what a slightly wild, but positive and good-hearted person she is. Her kindness and loyalty shone through. Her only problem is that she can be a bit impetuous, has a bit of a temper, and a habit of getting things wrong.

The gossiping villagers
in London Children’s Ballet’s Anne of Green Gables by Jenna Lee
Photo Alice Pennefather

Anne’s lively imagination is beautifully illustrated before she even gets to the Cuthbert’s house. Her and Matthew’s turning into an avenue of trees in blossom is the signal for the ballet’s dream scene, the ‘White Way of Delight’. Another great ensemble dance, this time using stools and slates, comes later in the schoolroom. Maths lessons weren’t that interesting or that much fun in my day!

That schoolroom scene also gives lots of opportunity for cameos from the dancers. The boys impressed in particular. There are humorous moments too, best of which comes when two of them quite brilliantly mimic three preening girls.

Annalise Wainwright-Jones (right) as Anne,
with Lily Routledge as Diana, her best friend
Photo Alice Pennefather

Among the boys, 11-year-old Fyfe Skinner, complete with the most expressive face, naturally led the way as Gilbert Blythe, always playing the fool or wooing the girls in his amusing pre-teen way. He’s also on the receiving end when Anne breaks a slate over his head after he teases her with the nickname ‘Carrots’. It’s probably not spoiling things to reveal that he does get the girl in the end, though.

Lee’s choreography is sometimes challenging but the young dancers rose to it wonderfully. In some ways even more impressive was the way they fully inhabited the characters, even the minor ones such as the stationmaster in the opening scene, and two workmen carrying heavy sacks. Even in those busy scenes, there was never a sense that anyone was simply making up the numbers. There was a real depth of understanding of character that is not always there in much more illustrious companies.

Gilbert Blythe (Fyfe Skinner) tries to woo a decidedly unimpressed Anne
in London Children’s Ballet’s Anne of Green Gables
Photo Alice Pennefather

Anne’s best friend, Diana, was delightfully played by Lily Routledge. More fun comes when, left at home, they dance and get thirsty. Anne’s penchant for getting things wrong strikes again as she pours her friend Diana homemade wine thinking it was cordial, with predictable results.

Alice Stallion as Marilla was all stiff angles and straight lines, with a stern face and tightly knotted hair, although even she couldn’t resist melting to Anne’s charm. Freddie Lovell showed well Matthew’s painful shyness and slight eccentricity. Matthew’s death is one of the more sensitive moments in the ballet and is very touchingly done.

Annalise Wainwright-Jones as Anne
Photo Alice Pennefather

There was so much more. Having impressed in his cameo as the orphanage director, John Holden shone again as Avonlea’s schoolmaster, Mr. Phillips, showing perfectly his inattentiveness and his liking for flirting with his oldest student, Prissy Andrews. There’s a lovely, if short, pas de deux at the beginning for Luca Mollica and Amelia Magni as the Rev. Allen and his wife, and the depiction of gossiping friends in the village is very effective.

London Children’s Ballet’s Anne of Green Gables: a story clearly told, with fine performances and fine music. It was, quite simply, a lovely afternoon.