A Bowl of Cherries is a slightly disparate collection of mini plays interspersed with songs. The cast include the top-billed Clare Buckfield (as a theatre ghost) and Gary Wilmot (in a multitude of roles), alongside six other highly capable performers.
The opening number sees starlet-in-the-making Penny Riddle (Buckfield) singing in a wartime theatre, only to be interrupted by the bang and flash of a bomb dropping. She then takes her place on a pair of theatre seats to the side of the stage, joined by ghostly stagehand Albert (Graham MacDuff).
Penny fails to realise she is a ghost, despite Albert’s many hints, and occasionally attempts to join in with the ensuing scenes – a device which is at times clunky and unnecessary as many of the scenes work well without it.
We start with six cast members singing “It’s a Wonderful Life” in good solid harmony and move through a playground scene and a rather incongruous rap number to the highlight of the first act — a four-performer tableau in which a series of monologues gradually form a story of a man and wife, their daughter and her Australian male model ‘other half’, with a surprising twist.
Act two is more consistent, although still lacks a through-story other than the gradual progression from cradle to grave. One well-acted, funny scene features Wilmot as a husband with a surprising announcement for his wife (Julie Jupp) during their 25th wedding anniversary dinner.
The song “Together Again” takes a lightly satirical look at the relationships of the iPhone/Blackberry generation. One of the more moving segments of the evening sees Wilmot and Jupp as an old couple opening their stockings in bed on Christmas morning.
Penny does eventually realise she’s a ghost, agrees to wed Albert – "a marriage made in heaven" – and gets to finish her opening number.
The cast are talented and do well with the material. The show has been nominated in the 2012 Off West End Theatre Awards for best ensemble, and rightly so as the performances add some sparkle to writing that may otherwise miss the mark.
The saying goes that life is just a bowl of cherries. This show, however, is rather more like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never quite know what you’re going to get.