The plot is deliberately as flimsy as the TV series ever was. Miss Babs Sara Crowe is struggling to keep the shop afloat. The Guilty Bean coffee chain is moving into Manchesterford and has its eyes on the failing business. Throw into the mix; amnesia, some macaroons which have been on a slow heat since Thursday, guilty secrets and songs a plenty - and you have all of the ingredients for an affectionate, warm and witty show.
Since the West End version opened in 2005, some major changes have taken place for the tour. Firstly, the show is much leaner, with much of the annoying first half cut. Secondly the casting has changed. Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston and Sally Ann Triplet no longer run the ailing shop. Less well known faces now grace the stage.
Ria Jones plays Mrs Overall, in superb voice as ever but also with a light comic touch which has been untapped previously. She steals the show during several scenes. Crowe is spot on as Miss Babs, knowingly wooden. Her song "Have You Met Miss Babs" is a joy to watch. Lisa Peace sings superbly as Miss Berta but her part suffers from being underwritten. Kim Ismay plays villainess with a secret, Bonnie, with real relish, like a refugee from the Crossroads motel.
Even with a major overhaul, the show still has problems. The cast is too big and often the stage looks cramped. Also the songs seem to interrupt the narrative flow. Pace wise, some scenes simply grind to a halt. The major problem is that there are not enough elements that made the TV show - such as wobbly furniture or extreme close ups - as this is not TV; it’s a slick stage show. Wood's songs are delightful though and her inoffensive humour keeps you smiling. Spoofs of musicals themselves are always welcome and even though the concept is as overstretched as Mrs O’s tights, this old fashioned show has the laughs to win you over, momentarily.
- Glenn Meads