Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Acorn Antiques the Musical

Book, music, lyrics and direction by Victoria Wood
Nottingham Theatre Royal and touring
(2007)

Production photo

Victoria Wood is a perfectionist. Despite Acorn Antiques having a sell-out run in the West End, she's ripped it apart and rewritten large chunks of it.

There was criticism of the West End version, mainly from reviewers who didn't understand how Acorn Antiques had developed from a cult sketch in one of Ms Wood's TV series into a full-length musical which had audiences applauding before any of the characters opened their mouths.

None of the devoted fans complained about the stage version - neither the three hours' duration nor the extortionate West End ticket prices.

Yet Ms Wood took it upon herself to take a fresh look at the production. She's written some new numbers, added more comedy observations and come up with a pacier, fresh offering that seems better suited to a new cast.

Gone is the first act with the Trevor Nunn-style, subversive director from the Wisbech festival who wants to bring the town of Manchesterford to a grim end. And there's no gathering of the luvvies and divas who meet for the musical's first rehearsal.

The Les Miserables pastiche when the Manchesterford traders unite to prevent their street being taken over by impersonal franchises has disappeared. And Mr Clifford doesn't take out his revenge on the local council by blowing them all away in a town-hall bloodbath.

You can still see that on the DVD which came out last year. But the live version now has a new director, with Ms Wood taking over from Trevor Nunn, a new beginning which sounds as though it could have been taken from Chicago - and even a new Mrs Overall.

Ria Jones has the unenviable task of replacing Julie Walters - yet she's a great success because she performs the part almost exactly as Miss Walters did. She's got the mannerisms just right, she sounds like a proper Brummie and she has the audience with her from her first entrance.

Sara Crowe makes a nervous start but soon settles into the part of Miss Babs while Lisa Peace and Kim Ismay are refreshing as Miss Berta and Miss Bonnie.

The only disappointment is Teddy Kempner who doesn't stamp his personality on the role of Mr Clifford.

Despite all the changes, Ms Wood has managed to retain the jolliest number from the first half, Tip Top Tap, by getting the Manchesterford Amateur Operatic society to perform it during a rehearsal in the Acorn Antiques shop. It's a slightly contrived move - but the musical would have been lacking without it.

Victoria Wood has managed to write a different version of Acorn Antiques the Musical which should please avid fans of the show as well as those seeing the production for the first time.

The humour is typical of the writer, with more than a smattering of lines about women's problems which can be enjoyed by both sexes. You can quite easily imagine Ms Wood performing some of the material in her unique, exceptionally funny stand-up shows.

I enjoyed Acorn Antiques the Musical immensely when I saw it in the West End. I must admit I probably enjoyed the touring version even more, despite the absence of some of the star names.

"Acorn Antiques the Musical " tours to Canterbury, Reading, Bath, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Bournemouth and Southend until June 30th

Reviewer: Steve Orme