Acorn Antiques @ Theatre Royal Haymarket, London

cast list
Julie Walters
Celia Imrie
Duncan Preston
Sally Ann Triplett
Josie Lawrence
Neil Morrissey
Victoria Wood

written by
Victoria Wood

directed by
Trevor Nunn
Victoria Wood’s new musical Acorn Antiques has been on the receiving end of some rather mixed reviews in the weeks since it opened, but after seeing it I’m hard pressed to understand what some critics have taken against. This is a great show; bizarre but delightful.

Based on Wood’s sketches from her 1980s television show, Acorn Antiques – The Musical is a spoof of a spoof of a spoof. The original sketches, which poked fun at soaps such as Crossroads with their flimsy sets and stilted acting, had an excellent cast: Celia Imrie as Miss Babs, Duncan Preston as Mr Clifford, Victoria Wood as Miss Berta and Julie Walters as Mrs Overall. It is pretty unusual, twenty years later, to have all the principle actors still keen to be involved, but such is the affection for Victoria Wood that Imrie, Preston and Walters are all reprising their roles in this new production, with the exception of Wood herself. Her role is being expertly filled by Sally Ann Triplett, so brilliant in the West End’s recent production of Anything Goes, though Wood will be taking on the part of Mrs Overall for two performances a week.

The sketches themselves would never have sustained a full length production on their own, so Wood has had to be rather inventive. The show begins with Acorn Antiques, the soap, cancelled, and the cast under the odious direction of John, played by Neil Morrissey, a regional theatre director who thinks of himself as something of a modern, edgy auteur. His proposed production of Acorn Antiques is an anathema to Mrs Overall’s alter ego Bo Beaumont, though her fellow actors are just happy to get the work.

The first half concludes with Bo coming into a large amount of money and deciding to jettison the odious John and stage a musical version of Acorn Antiques in the West End. This sets things in motion for a bizarre musical tale of the two sisters and their search for their inheritance. The songs are excellent, requiring your full attention because it’s guaranteed for every joke you catch you probably missed three more.

Victoria Wood’s gift is for language and speech and every line in this production is a joy. Julia Walters’ is equally amazing in her comic timing, she can walk on stage and not say a word and still be incredibly funny; her turn as Mrs Overall is one of the performances of the year. She is that rare person who has a completely enthralling stage presence and she electrifies as the ancient cleaning lady with a passion for macaroons.

Wood has introduced a large supporting cast in the guise of the local light operatic society. A uniformly talented group, it is refreshingly made up of people of all ages, shapes and sizes, possibly reflecting Wood’s influence over the casting. The surprise star of the first half is Josie Lawrence, who plays a Brummie costume lady and nabs all the best lines.

The sets are worth a mention too: in the first half events take place in a typical grotty village hall for the cast’s am-dram antics but, after the interval, a faithful recreation of the Acorn Antiques set is revealed, much to the delight of the audience, complete with rickety sets and swaying backdrops.

At nearly three hours the production is undoubtedly too long, the audience occasionally getting restless as a result. The pacing is erratic and some story lines have no real resolution. But having said all this, and despite the horrendous 65 ticket price for a stalls seat, this is a wonderful, warm-hearted, eccentric and ultimately fulfilling musical with strong performances that will linger pleasantly in the memory.

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