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ONSTAGE

ACORN ANTIQUES Mossley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society discuss their recent production of Acorn Antiques - the Musical! Introduction

Mossley is a small town approximately 10 miles east of Manchester. The operatic and dramatic society is based in its own studio which has rehearsal facilities, a small performance space and a fully equipped workshop. The society stages three productions a year alongside showcases given by their youth group Next Generation. Never afraid of producing something different this award winning society is the first in the area to tackle Victoria Wood’s ‘Acorn Antiques The Musical!’

The Show

The show revolves around some of the characters who appeared in the television version of ‘Acorn Antiques’. Mrs Overall, Miss Babs, Miss Berta and Mr Clifford are all there in the antique shop. The story follows the fortunes of a number of shops along the high street in Manchesterford. The owner of the shops has sold out to a property developer and the traditional shops are being taken over by “faceless chains”. The other principals are Miss Bonnie (the third sister) and Tony (a loan shark). The cast is completed with two young people, several shopkeepers, a postman and assorted browsers all of whom have some amusing dialogue.

The short scene at the railway station was played in subdued lighting with a station clock and smoke. Within the design special consideration had to be given to the cast to allow freedom of movement on this extremely cluttered set and to ensure sufficient space for the choreographer to weave her magic spell. Property co-ordinator Janet Hinchcliffe said, “This show is a fantastic opportunity to rummage around in charity shops for antique items and knick-knacks. Also, it gives you a chance to be creative, making the set look like a genuine antique shop. One essential prop for this show is macaroons, which I have to say were delightful!” According to lighting technician Richard Ryder Jnr there were 170 lighting cues, the only special effect being the brief use of strobe lighting during the station scene. Some important sound effects are needed, the most challenging ones for sound technicians Lea Royse and Elodie Perrier were the tunes needed for the ring tones of Mr Clifford’s phone -‘The Girl With The Flaxen Hair’ and ‘Daisy, Daisy’. Another tricky section for the technical crew is when the cast are taking part in a word game and the various letters have to light up in the correct order along with appropriate sound effects.

Staging

Mossley AODS perform the majority of their shows at the George Lawton Centre Mossley and consequently know the space inside and out. This is, however, to no avail when you have very little wing space and no flying facilities. The opening scene to Act 1 consists of five shop windows and doors which when struck reveal the interior of Acorn Antiques. The opening of Act 2 has the same shop doorways now transformed into four different shops and the interior of Acorn Antiques is now a coffee shop. The production requires a full set for the Acorn Antiques shop which incorporates a moving staircase with stairlift, a huge television for the reading of the living will and a wall safe that is actually a safe with-in a safe. This may sound mad but yes we are in the world of Victoria Wood. With clever use of two trucks, folding wings and interchangeable windows, doors and shop signs the problems with the opening scenes of both acts were solved. The main problem with the shop was the sight lines so that the audience had a good view of the safe, stairs and stairlift. The view of the stairs was vastly improved by the main body of the shop being built on two levels of rostra, and the problems of the safe with-in a safe were overcome by the use of back projection.

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ONSTAGE MAODS were fortunate to have the help of John Henshaw, a professional actor who lives locally, who took part in the filming of ‘The Living Will,’ a vital part of the show. The set was built at MAODS studios and moved to the theatre prior to set up. This allowed a technical run through and full dress rehearsal on the Sunday prior to opening on the Monday. The stage crew and props team have to transform all the shops during the interval. Scenic designer, John Buckley said, ”I must give a special thank you to all the stage staff who built and painted this set which is now the property of Scenic Hire South Wales and many thanks to Acorn Stairlifts for sponsoring the production and providing the stairlift.”

Make-up and Wardrobe

Some essential costumes such as the tweed suits for Miss Babs and Miss Berta, the Guilty Bean uniforms and the sparkly ‘Chorus Line’ type outfits for the ‘Mrs O’ number were hired from Costume House, Denton our local costumier but many of the costumes worn by the shopkeepers and browsers were provided by the cast. Wardrobe co-ordinator Jean Ryder said, “It was great what the cast came up with when asked to source their own costumes.” Hilary Winters, who was in charge of the make-up said, “MAODS do invest in the highest quality, professional, real hair lace wigs which give the students (from Oldham College) invaluable experience in their application and care.” The wigs, worn by Miss Babs and Miss Berta, looked fantastic and were essential to recreate these characters. Another challenge was to create Mrs Overall’s varicose veins, this was achieved using pipe cleaners!

Musical Director - Paul Firth

This is more of a “play with music” rather than a conventional musical. Operatic societies should seriously consider this before choosing to do it. The characters have to be strongly drawn throughout; even the “small parts”, of which there are really none! Asking your average singer / actor to take on a role which, in some cases, is not really open to very much interpretation because of the public perception of that part is not easy. On top of that there is the problem of ‘Tip Top Tap’ and ‘Mrs. O’ numbers. These are two big production numbers which should be led by the same characters and not covered by introducing dancers. From a musical point of view I don’t think there is anything particularly difficult. One thing that Musical Directors should be aware of is that the reduced scoring does present a few problems particularly in relation to the 2 keyboard parts, which have so many changes happening in quick succession that even professional players found it difficult to manage. I considered losing the violin part, thinking it would probably be covered by the keyboards. On reflection I’m glad that I kept it in. Finally I have heard that a lot of societies will be taking this on and one of their main problems will be to get a working set, which is more complicated than at first seems. Having experience of very many different musicals I initially thought this would be quite straightforward. It isn’t!

Director – Craig Wright

The challenge was to try not to make it too much like the TV show (wobbly sets, missed cues etc.) as some of the audience may not know ‘AA’ and will therefore think it to be poor. It was great fun to direct but only really comes alive with an audience.

Conclusion

Choreographer Janice Hughes commented, “It has been fun and hard work. Look out for the hats!!”. This really is an ensemble show, in all there was a cast of just 21 who worked together in the all singing, all dancing production numbers. Many of the cast had to tap dance for the first time ever, even after treading the boards for many, many years!

Special thanks to Martin Ogden for production photos

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Acorn Antiques -August 2011