Review – Acorn Antiques – The Musical!

February 15, 2012 | By | Reply More

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Gabrielle Pavone as Miss Bonnie and Jill Cruickshank as Miss Babs

Church Hill Theatre
Review by Thom Dibdin

Wonky sets, missed cues and outrageous innuendo are all present and suitably incorrect in Tempo’s new production of Acorn Antiques – The Musical!.

Miss Babs and Miss Berta take their natural positions centre stage, twin sister proprietors of Acorn Antiques in Manchesterford. Orbiting them, Mr Clifford is their softly spoken fellow owner – while their faithful dogsbody  Mrs Overall blunders around between everyone at regular intervals.

If fans of Victoria Wood’s original spoof soap opera will be only slightly bemused to learn that the cousins have suddenly become twin sisters, they will take even less surprise at the flimsy plot that ensues, with its ostentatiously signposted twists and outrageous coincidences.

It turns out that the twins are in fact triplets and have to find both a third sister and their mother – or they will never inherit their father’s vast fortune, and pay off the cold, heartless loan shark Tony (James Dickson) so they can buy out the shop from under the noses of the developers who are tearing the heart out of sleepy old Manchesterford.

Greater musicals have turned on more slender plots. And there is enough proper musical here to satisfy most audiences, whether they come to it as fans of Acorn Antiques or have never even heard of the sketch on Victoria Wood As Seen on TV.

Those familiar with Wood’s original production, either in the West End or on the DVD, will be relieved that Tempo has chosen to use her later touring version. It drops the West End’s extended first half pastiche of musicals generally, allowing director Iain Hughes to cut straight to the good stuff: a stage musical based on Wood’s original sketch – as presented by the  Manchesterford Amateur Operatic Society.

Open her bodice and let rip

If the plot is slender, the performances are strong. Jill Cruickshank’s tweedy Miss Babs is all hearty, uptight barely-repressed sexuality. Only when called upon to open her bodice and let rip  in Have You Met Miss Babs? does she falter. Niloo-Far Khan’s Miss Berta flutters aimlessly around, wittering on about Mr Clifford’s failure to recognise that she used to be his fiancé before a blow to the head made him lose his memory.

Norma Kinnear (centre) Mrs Overall

Norma Kinnear has the show-stealing part of Mrs Overall. Bent double she blunders around getting all her cues wrong, sporting a weirdly dire accent and bringing her famous macaroons on at the most opportune moments. It is with Mrs O, however, that the production’s only real difficulty lies. Enjoyable though Kinnear is to watch, the laughs rely too much on perceptions of the role from the original sketches.

Which, it must be said, is as much a fault of the writing as it is of the production. And the triumph of this production does, indeed, lie elsewhere.

It turns out, that the spot that makes the difference comes from the most mundane of places: Mr Clifford. It’s not in Darren Coutts general reading of the role – although he does it excellently and makes it his own without appearing to pastiche the original in any way – but his delivery of the number: Clifford’s Anthem.

Suddenly, from amidst all the silliness, the mocking and the absurd ribaldry, Coutts turns it into a lonely, soulful piece of of regret, delivered with confidence and real understanding. Of course the moment is immediately subverted – yes we’ve lost so much agrees Babs: “threepenny bits, capital punishment…” as if the two could be equated.

All around the show there are big performances which make a difference. Particularly in the first half. Gabrielle Pavone’s Miss Bonnie – a go-getting business woman who is determined to buy out Acorn Antiques until she is revealed as the third triplet – is splendidly loud and stroppy. While Pavone hits all the big notes bang on.

Mairi Beaver and Rory Maclean as Mimi and Hugh – a pair of pitiful adolescents from the new government pitiful adolescent training scheme –  are perfectly sneering teenagers who quickly overtake their employers in understanding of the antiques trade.

The second half, with the company transformed from chintzy lazy-town types to bright, florescent latex-sporting consumers of every kind of 21st century sexual stimulus, from thongs to silicone implants, doesn’t work quite as well. The long cast of extra characters are much funnier when the performers have to make you know of their character’s foibles without actually naming them.

A lovingly detailed set that wobbles in all the right bits, solid choreography from director Iain Hughes and crisp performances from the Gypsy Creams in the pit all help ensure the success of the show.

A great way for Tempo Musical Productions to celebrate is 21st year.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes.
Run ends Saturday 18 Feb 2012
Shows: daily 7.30pm; Sat mat, 2.30pm.
Tempo website: www.tempo.org.uk

ENDS

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