Acorn Antiques, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London

The potty parallel world of a superb spoof soap
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The Independent Culture

Soap stars on stage? That usually means Christmas and the kind of pantomime you would travel to Lapland with Santa to avoid. But here we have a stage full of sudsy VIPs and it's only February, and the show is just about the hottest ticket in the West End. What's going on? Well, the twist, of course, is that they are the stars of Victoria Wood's spoof soap, Acorn Antiques.

Soap stars on stage? That usually means Christmas and the kind of pantomime you would travel to Lapland with Santa to avoid. But here we have a stage full of sudsy VIPs and it's only February, and the show is just about the hottest ticket in the West End. What's going on? Well, the twist, of course, is that they are the stars of Victoria Wood's spoof soap, Acorn Antiques.

There are those of us who, in the mid-Eighties, measured out our lives by the weekly instalments of this sublime send-up. Even now, we pat our bosoms and say: "Mrs Overall, c'est moi". But you wouldn't want The Office on ice or a trapeze version of Fawlty Towers.

And the verdict? Well, put it this way, I haven't laughed as helplessly since the day I heard Bernadette had closed at the Dominion. It's the supreme cheek of the endeavour that will irritate some people and exhilarate the rest of us.

On normal dramatic grounds, the show makes no sense at all. You just have to accept that you have entered a weird parallel universe where potty things happen. For example, axed because of a head-to-head ratings battle with Celebrity Breast Enlargements That Went Wrong, the soap has, in the first half, been hijacked by a pretentious polytechnic-style theatre director (Neil Morrissey) who wants to use it as a vehicle for agit-prop.

Then the actress who plays Mrs O wins the lottery. She uses the cash to fund a West End musical version of the soap in which the antique emporium is endangered by the globalising might of a coffee chain.

We're sucked into a barmy world where Julie Walters' hysterically funny Mrs O can achieve apotheosis by getting in a chair lift to paradise, her pinafore turned golden and Bob Fosse-like with gladness.

It is a bit self-indulgent, but Walters gives the show heart as well as hilarity, and there's a blissful performance from Celia Imrie whose permanently pursed and reproving Miss Babs still moves around as though she has a theodolite up her bum. Director Trevor Nunn pushes the ingredients of this pedigree dog's dinner around the plate with flair. The show gets away with murder gloriously.

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