Theatre Monkeys review of “Acorn Antiques”

There comes a time in every reviewer’s life when they are the last to produce the goods. The last to get their words out to you, the public. With this comes great fear, the fear that what they want to say has already been said…this is one of those times. Sadly I am the last to review (to my knowledge), but it will not deter me. After reading the other reviews that have been produced I must say, I fully agree. Still, I have seen, I have been impressed and I want to share with you, the reader, my opinions on The Cast’s production of Acorn Antiques.

A true amateurish delight that is perfect in every way.

This is a musical that is made from the very staples of television’s long running show ‘Crossroads’ amongst others and of ‘at the time’ radio broadcasts, conceived by Victoria Woods in the early 1980’s, aired in her hit show ‘Victoria Woods As Seen On TV’ and well, let’s face it…is a spoof of all that is serious within the world of television and radio. It was written as an exaggerated version of well-loved programmes and showcases all that happens within one of these shows; forgotten memories, complicated love stories, vastly wild plots and a family brought together over death and reconciliation. This show explores the best of television has to offer with low production cost, rickety sets, dreadful scripts and over-acting; something I am sure that no one does!

The story is simple. An antiques shop at the heart of Manchesterford’s highstreet. Inside are sisters Miss Babs, Miss Berta and another woman called Mrs Overall. These three keep the shop afloat, surrounded by their neighboring shop keeps, postmen, street cleaners, friends and love interests. That is until gigantic conglomerates plan on overturning all shops buying out the tenants and creating boutiques, tanning salons, piercing shops and a giant coffee shop; all aided by a loan shark. Can the sisters of this simple shop overthrow the giants and win back the street?

Let me just grab a cake and a cup of tea and I will be with you shortly, “Mrs O”…

Entering the Duchess Theatre I was greeted by friendly staff all dressed to impress ushering all who came through their doors to their seats. A buzz was in the air as there was the anticipation of “what to expect”. Having seen the originals of this show, I was excited to see how this company portrayed this well-loved comedy. Jumping right to the end, I was not let down in the slightest. What a show, what a performance and what a talented collection of actors. Leaving the theatre I can say that I am now excited to see these guys perform their next production ‘9-5 The Musical’ in March next year.

1The curtains were drawn so I could not see the stage, which only added to the excitement and anticipation of what was to come. The band were assembled in front of the stage, eagerly tuning up and waiting for the drop of the musical director’s baton. Once all seats were taken the lights dimmed. Drop, it fell and the band picked up their tuneful ways perfectly, and in this moment the curtain opened to present a single person, head down dressed in black. Fabulous opening to a show, the whole ensemble explaining, creating and moving to form the made up town of Manchesterford. It did make me laugh, as with a lot of this musicals music, you can hear the odd tune or motif from other well-known musicals. This one is no different, as for me the setting, costume and sound was a subtle (or rather blatant nod) to Liza Minnelli’s ‘All that Jazz’…but in marigolds!

The set was one of the best amateur sets I have seen in a very long time. Doors, stairs, wonky pictures and even a working stair lift, all added to the show in a way that made you believe every moment. Sure this was a farce in the grand scale of things, but to have the wobbly set pieces, the un-openable (at times) open doors right down to the table a chair set gave the audience the picture-perfect image of this beloved musical. I will just mention that this is a show with a difference, where the set and missed ques, even wrong entrances and prompts all add to the enjoyable amateurish portrayal that shows us just why this TV show and Victoria Wood is a household name in British comedy.

So let’s get right to it. It is fair to say that there is not one member of this company that does not deserve praise. It goes without question that without each and every person (both on stage and off) this production would not have been the success that it quite clearly was. As we are talking about the cast there are a few proverbial thumbs up that I would like to mention.

24Carrie-Anne Corner (Miss Babs) was everything that you would want and expect from the character. The sexually charged yet the perfect host and shop owner, all the while being full of life and energy. Her voice is pitch perfect and never skipped a written note, even when well…erm…being overly familiar with her figure and the man she was showing it to in the song ‘Have you met Miss Babs’. Carolyn Smith (Miss Berta), again was the perfect casting. Her expression both body and facial were intense, mournful and a little bit cheeky when needed. Carolyn’s voice was sublime, echoing into the rafters especially during ‘Remind him’. Both were indeed a great blend of vocals, acting skill and comedic timing.

Alex Tavener (Miss Bonnie) played a perfect, yet understated (at first) villain, I for one cannot fault her performance. Strong, bold and yet very, very funny. During one song I was laughing so much that I may have choked a little, as I was taken by surprise of one of her entrances. She left one side, and moments later, as the song still continued, entered from the opposite side; arms skyward “Ah-ing” with a beaming great smile.
For me, the stand out performance is undoubtedly Mrs Overall/Mrs O (Mina Machin). She was a delight to watch, listen to and soak in. Every word was delivered in the most effortlessly presented Brummie accent that I am sure would make both Julie Walters and Victoria Woods proud. Her mannerisms, facial expressions, physical body shape even her varicose veins were remarkable to watch. The comic timing of missed cues, her ability to sing, especially her speech level singing (which is incredibly hard to get right) down to the way in which she interacts with all the cast (and audience) were a joy to watch.

Jason Parker’s (Mr Clifford) portrayal of this character was marvellous. His timing, his voice and his endless suffering due to the ‘accident’ were all on display and you could tell that he enjoyed every minute. Adam Richmond (Tony) was suave, cunning, charming and scheming all the while staying away from the fatty sweety goodness of the macaroons! That is until he eats one, and then the ‘ham’ set in. Changing his ways for the better, you could really see the change. Sure Tony told us all what was happening, but still it could be seen in as simple a thing as the posture shift.

MH5_8427 ResizedKeith Butcher (Mr Watkins) and Chris Collington (Derek) were as delight. Fabulously sauntering about, pervading the air with your ironed cardigans! Very funny to watch during the song ‘Gents duet’, especially Chris. I had seen him in a recent production of Rock of Ages, to then witness this change was just an added bonus and a credit to your acting skill.

Each and every member of this cast should feel proud at what they have achieved. I was taken back by just how amazing each and every one of you were. Well done.

Sound (Ben Tennett) was brilliant. Never once did the vocals fall below ear level, nor the band become too loud. It was well balanced and never changed. Lighting (Dave Martin) lit the stage ‘spot’ on! Colours where needed were there, the spots were perfectly placed and never once did I feel that it was dark or blinded, which given the style of the show could have happened. Choreography (Laurie Trott) had all the glitz and glamour of Broadway and The West End, yet still felt perfectly done for this piece. There was not that many ‘big’ numbers, however what was there, was entertaining and visually stunning. Costumes (Mina Machin) reminding me exactly of the TV show. I cannot say any more than that really. Brilliant. Musical Director (Dave Dallard) produced a fantastic band that delivered some cracking numbers and never once lost the pace of the piece.

Director Rob Corner must be feeling exhausted and with a great sense of achievement. To be able to create such a magnificent show, and get the best natural performance of all of the cast and crew (as they too were in stage) just shows us how much time effort, energy and love has gone into this show. A true amateurish delight that is perfect in every way.