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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows, and various online archives preserve still more vintage productions. Even as things return to normal we continue to review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Acorn Antiques - The Musical
Haymarket Theatre 2005 and YouTube   March 2024

A little background: In the 1980s comedian Victoria Wood wrote and starred in a television series that featured a running sketch that parodied TV soap operas.

Acorn Antiques poked fun at the bizarre characters and plot twists of the genre, but its real joke was built on the combination of low budget, inadequate rehearsal and inept actors. Sets wobbled, props went missing, cues were missed or jumped and actors forgot lines or played to the wrong camera, all to comic effect.

Wood returned to the material twenty years later, reassembling some of the original cast and writing the script, music and lyrics for a stage musical, which ran in London's West End for a sold-out three months in 2005. We reviewed it HERE.

A fully professional video was made of the musical onstage, and it has surfaced on YouTube, so we take the opportunity, two decades later, to re-review it.

And it's a lot of fun a bit slow-starting and ultimately stretching a small comic idea a little too thin, but inventive, tuneful, frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and light of heart and touch.

Acorn Antiques The Musical is actually two shows in one. The weaker first act imagines the cast in rehearsal, the basic joke being the gap between their fictional roles and their supposed real personalities.

The actress playing the dotty and doddering tea lady is a snooty grande dame, the avuncular Best Friend is a leather-clad motorcyclist, and so on.

The trendy young director thinks this farce is actually a serious and subversive high drama, and everyone tries to disguise the fact that they haven't actually worked much since their TV days ('I was in Schindler's List...On Ice').

This introduction is wisely brief, and the main body of the evening is given over to the Acorn Antiques musical in satisfyingly inept and accident-ridden production.

There's a plot of sorts involving an evil property developer, a long-lost sister, a missing will and the tea lady's real identity. But you won't particularly care or pay much attention.

If you remember the original TV version, you'll delight in seeing Julie Walters (tea lady), Celia Imrie (owner) and Duncan Preston (friend) in their familiar roles, and even if you don't you'll quickly spot and enjoy the character quirks and running gags they so smoothly slip back into. (They are supported expertly by West End A-listers Sally Ann Triplett, Josie Lawrence, Neil Morrissey and others.)

Meanwhile the songs and dances are a delightful joke in themselves, something I hadn't fully appreciated in 2005. While subjecting the soap opera form to a loving parody, Victoria Wood also entertains herself and those of us who spot it with a series of songs each in the style of a different stage composer or production.

There's a song that sounds like an out-take from Sondheim's Company, one that you might think you remember from some Lloyd Webber show or another, and skilful and witty half-echoes from Blood Brothers, Sweet Charity, A Chorus Line, and so on essentially an anthology of the sounds of the theatre musical.

Trevor Nunn's staging, while being largely a matter of directing traffic so there are enough but not too many near-accidents onstage, pauses for visual salutes to Les Miz and others, while Stephen Mear's choreography slyly quotes Michael Bennett, Bob Fosse and Gower Champion.

It undoubtedly helps if you remember and enjoyed the original television sketches of forty years ago, but familiarity and lifelong fandom are not necessary.

Acorn Antiques The Musical is a lot of fun on its own merits, and this video makes it available whenever you need a little silliness in your day.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Acorn Antiques - The Musical (2005) - 2024
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