Long before Acorn Antiques, Dinnerladies and Pat and Margaret, a 25-year-old Victoria Wood wrote Talent, largely as a vehicle for herself and the equally embarrassingly talented Julie Walters.
The 'play with songs', here revised and revived in Wood's own production, undoubtedly provides an interesting slice of comic history. But as an experience it's rather like watching a repeat of a sitcom from the same era (it was first performed in 1978), and not just because the cast features Jeffrey Holland. One can revel in the nostalgia, but to put it bluntly it's just not as funny as it once was.
Set in fictional Mancunian niteclub Bunter's (“winner of best kept keg beer”), it centres on lithe talent show contestant Julie and her big hearted and big boned friend Maureen. As Julie prepares for her big number, they wait backstage and encounter a number of quirky characters, including a rampant womanising compere, a comedy magician "with banjo finale" and an organist whose organ has caused more than it's share of problems.
Structurally, despite Wood's best efforts to spruce it up with an era-establishing prologue and some additional musical numbers, the play is weak. Running at just over 90 minutes, it manages to feel longer, with few of the dramatic seeds bearing much fruit and the Bunters banter wearing thin.
As Julie and Maureen, Leanne Rowe and Suzie Toase do well to make the parts their own, despite the fact they're wearing custom-fit suits. Rowe makes for a sweet and sexy Julie and Toase captures the virginal gormlessness of Maureen whilst managing to wear a thick coat and hat nearly throughout without breaking sweat.
Among the support, there's good work from former Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry as the randy compere and Mark Hadfield goes great gurns with his selection of cameos, including show-stealing elderly caterer Mary.
But despite the tidal wave of early Wood wit, including the trademark wry song lyrics ("I want to be 14 again / Tattoo myself with a fountain pen"), there's something altogether hollow here. Even the opening night audience struggled to keep laughing through the longueurs, and the strongest feelings stirred were merely niggling doubts over the wisdom of this revival.