MUSICAL: The antiques floor show

Two decades on, Victoria Wood's vintage soap spoof is back as a musical

DUNCAN PRESTON once had a part in Crossroads, the ropey ITV soap where the sets moved more than the actors. "The very first scene I did on Crossroads was full of what we call `car crashes' - actors fluffing their lines, or talking over each other," he remembers. "And I thought, `That was awful, we're bound to do it again.' But we didn't - we just went straight on to film the next scene."

Preston is well placed, then, to star in the musical version of Acorn Antiques, for which he is reunited with Victoria Wood, Julie Walters and Celia Imrie, the three other cast members from the spoof soap that featured in BBC1's Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV 20 years ago.

Set in a mouldering "Manchesterford'' antique shop that only ever had two customers, the parodic soap was so exactly observed that it is credited in some quarters with hastening Crossroads' demise.

Acorn Antiques was peopled by its snobbish owner, Miss Babs (Imrie), the oafish Mr Clifford (Preston) and the relentlessly keen Miss Berta (Wood). But the star of the show was undoubtedly Mrs Overall (Walters), a bumbling Brummie cleaner.

In the first half of the musical, the actors from Acorn Antiques have been off the telly for five years and are eking out a living at a dour little theatre in Sutton Coldfield. When they discover the next production is a cheerless portrait of working-class misery directed by the earnest John (Neil Morrissey), the cast revolt. Bo Beaumont, the grand actress who plays Mrs Overall, hijacks the play and inserts some numbers from Cafe Continental, a musical in which she starred in 1957.

Wood is the only actor not to reprise her original part - her character will be played by Sally Ann Triplett from Anything Goes. But Wood will be replacing Walters as Mrs Overall "on bingo nights'' (Monday evenings and Wednesday matinees).

"This is not a question of bringing back an old favourite - it's something completely new,'' says Walters. "It's nothing to do with the old telly sketches at all. It's just that the actors who once played parts in the soap are now mounting a musical. Telly is the kicking-off point, but if you've never seen the original, it doesn't matter because it's all explained."

Preston takes up the theme. "There is no danger of spoiling the memory of the original TV series because this is a totally different concept. It's us playing the actors five years after Acorn Antiques has been axed. Before, they were earning good, regular money on a soap, but now they're back in the real world and picking up terrible jobs because none of them can actually act. My character, Mr Clifford, is just as boring off stage as on.''

"It didn't take much persuading to get us to do it," adds Walters. "I love all the soaps. Coronation Street could still prop me up behind the bar any time they want!''

`Acorn Antiques', Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, SW1 (0870 602 1110) booking to 19 March

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