Needle in a haystack
Credit: Hilary Yu

Heart and soul: Needle in a Haystack review

If you know the game, Needle In A Haystack is completely Stardew Valley vibes (and if you don’t, it’s cottagecore lesbian vibes). Written by Eliza Hogermeer with some lovely music and lyrics by Adrienne Knight, this is a heart-warming and gloriously cheesy musical that is worth every penny (and the admittedly off-putting trek up to Summertown).

Long story short and without any major spoilers, the show tells the tale of Annie, a city girl who moves to the quaint little English countryside village of Fernwood. As she tries to find her place in such a vastly different lifestyle, she faces the everyday tasks of falling in love and casually saving an entire village from destruction. There are parallel stories of other villagers alongside the main plot which act as a nice occasional detour, and you really do fall in love with a lot of the characters by the end with the way they are so excellently portrayed. Be prepared for some excellent British culture jokes, a splash of audience interaction, and a cute town anthem.

This was my first time at the North Wall Arts Centre, and I was surprised by how lovely a space it is. It feels like a mini Blackfriars Theatre with that Shakespearian-esque touch, but for this night the air was completely folk-oriented. The crew utilised the environment really well with the positioning of the cast in some scenes, and the lighting had some really effective moments. The band were placed nicely at the back of the stage, and the small ensemble (two keyboards, guitar and clarinet) suited the show well. Lilli Ganzer on clarinet added a nice flair with some supporting melodies to songs, and Ferdinand Castera (Musical Director and Keyboardist) held everything together from big group numbers to more gentle transitions.

The music: it’s the heart and soul of this place

~ Annie

Sophia George suited the role of Annie incredibly well. With a strong voice and a complete embodiment of her character, she stole the stage with her solo numbers and assertive stage presence. Annie’s slow-burn romance – or as slow as you can get in a 2-hour show – with Kitt (played excellently by Evie Gilder) was heart-warming, and their duet in Act 2 almost had me in tears.

James Morrell as Jimmy Green may have been my favourite character. I’m biased as a musician, but it was so lovely to see a proper actor-musician playing (not miming) on stage – and with a really good storyline, too. Morrell successfully captured an intricate character battling big dreams and alcohol abuse, and with such a lovely voice and unequivocal charm, his plentiful talent was evident.

Last but in no way least, Victoria Kinne as the villain Matilda Morrissey was captivating. During her powerful solo number ‘When Matilda Calls’ at the end of Act 1, I could not take my eyes off her. Kinne held herself with such poise and authority: it emphasised the unwavering force that was her character threatening the village with urbanisation and wonderfully obnoxious levels of English snobbery.

The rest of the cast completely supported the cosy village aesthetic and were dedicated to their roles. The school scenes with Fizza Laidi and Sahar Malaika were particularly charming and definitely reminded me of my own school days in the weird and wonderful environment of British schools. 

I felt some minor inconsistencies throughout, such as some jokes or props not quite making sense, or transitions seeming to begin but with no music. Regarding transitions (which are notoriously difficult), some of them felt quite long or a little clumsy: some cast members were acting through transitions and some weren’t, so transitions versus action were not always clear. I must stress that these points did not detract from the overall reception of the show: the small but enthralled audience was clapping and cheering at almost every opportunity.

I cannot recommend seeing this show enough (especially during Pride Month!). It is evident that so much hard work has gone into this, and it’s always a joy to appreciate some fresh new writing – especially something so charming, fun and heartfelt. Grab yourself a ticket here for tonight or tomorrow: it’s a 10-minute bus from the Magdalen Street Tesco, and it’s a surefire way to enjoy one of your last evenings of the term.