MRS OVERALL, Berta, Clifford and Miss Babs - four names that instantly conjuring up images of wobbly sets, stilted delivery and acting so wooden that you have to watch out for splinters.
Inspired by the long-running soap Crossroads, Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques started life as weekly sketch in her BBC series As Seen On TV.
Set in an antiques shop in the fictional English town of Manchesterford, the melodrama boasted ridiculously implausible storylines that incorporated everything from love triangles to amnesiacs and sudden deaths to sibling reunions.
After a two-year run from 1985-87 Acorn Antiques disappeared from screens, but not before developing a cult following.
Indeed, the series of sketches was so fondly remembered that some 18 years later Wood was encouraged to bring the characters back.
Acorn Antiques: The Musical! premiered on London’s West End in 2005 and where the original TV sketches had parodied soaps such as Crossroads, EastEnders and Coronation Street, so the musical satirised musical theatre, taking pops at the likes of Les Misérables and Chicago.
Next week, at the Church Hill Theatre, local amateurs Tempo mark their 21st anniversary by tackling Wood’s comedy.
Executive producer Kenny Kinnear says, “We have a massive admiration for the work of Victoria Wood. Not only is she a true comic genius but she also has a great talent for song writing and music making.
“I had the original TV series on DVD for years - sadly, I never saw the original London production but purchased the DVD; I was not disappointed and added the show to Tempo’s ‘to do’ list immediately.
“Managing to get the performing rights directly from Victoria Wood was a bit of a coup,” he adds.
In the musical, the original fictional actors from the ‘TV show’ Acorn Antiques are reprising their roles for the stage. They believe they have been signed up to do a typically light-hearted song and dance show. However, their experimental director has other ideas. He wants a gritty commentary on British suburban life.
One disastrous dress rehearsal later and the cast are back in charge and ready to return to what they know best.
It’s a big challenge for Tempo’s players, after all, recreating roles synonymous with comic geniuses such as Victoria Wood, Julie Walters and Celia Imrie is no mean feat.
Kinnear says, “The main characters were all played brilliantly by the actors in the London professional production and so our challenge was not to copycat them, but to deal with the characterisation of the roles in a way to suit the actors we have in Tempo.
“To portray things ‘going wrong’ on stage needs the very highest standard of acting and perception, or the situations won’t work - timing is of the essence.”
That skill is never more evident than in Act Two, a musical within a musical, which finds Miss Babs and Miss Berta running their antique shop, aided and abetted by Mrs Overall and Mr Clifford. Soon however, as they discover they have a third sister, the plot romps into the hilariously improbable territory that made the original TV version so popular.
Club owner Jason Clarkson, who plays a character called Mr Watkins, and like the rest of the 24-strong cast, he has been rehearsing for the show two nights a week since last September.
“We are in the extremely fortunate hands of working with the amazing Victoria Wood’s script, so the main challenge has been to stay true to her words and do them justice,” he says.
“The players have the very daunting task of making everything look so professional and then deliberately ‘amateur’ in places.
“The dialogue is just so clever, we really have to deliver it to do this amazing body of work justice.”
Another company member, Scott Anderson, admits he too was a big fan of the show before being cast in the Tempo production.
“I was aware of the musical through being a huge Victoria Wood fan and a huge fan of Acorn Antiques and although I never got to see the West End version, I have seen the DVD of it,” he says.
When the musical first opened in London one critic commented that a sketch had been stretched into a three-hour long musical. Consequently, the script has been revisited.
“The show has since been changed by Victoria Wood, which is nice for those who saw the original as they now get to see all their favourite characters but in a different piece,” says Anderson, adding that, ironically, the musical is very relevant in a recession hit Britain.
“It tackles a lot of the issues that small businesses face in the current economic climate, except we sing and dance those issues away.”
If only real life were that simple.
Acorn Antiques: The Musical, Church Hill Theatre, Morningside Road, Mon-Sat, 7.30pm (matinee 2.30pm), £11-£15, 0131-336 5030