It would be possible to write a Ph.D thesis on the differences between a ‘revue’ and a ‘musical’, but arguably the producers of ‘A Bowl of Cherries’ wouldn’t bother to read it. They probably argue among themselves, too, since the show is billed as ‘A New Musical’ on the programmes and ‘A Musical Review’ (sic) on the posters.

This evidence of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is telling the printers is a small symptom of the disjointedness of the whole production. We are, appropriately enough for the arches under Charing Cross station, in a dusty abandoned theatre where two ghosts, she ‘Penny’ and he ‘Farthing’ (geddit) are re-living past experiences although he wants to move on and she – like the script, music and lyrics – is resolutely stuck in the past. A basket of cherries is spotlit upstage, but after the opening minute it’s hoisted aloft into the flies and never seen or referred to again.

As played by Claire Buckfield, Penny is a brightly jolly 1920s soubrette somewhat like a young Joan Collins if she could sing, Her foil in this framing of the show, Graham Macduff, is a flat-capped sleeves-rolled-up Gawd-bless-yer-Mary-Poppins kind of stagehand who sings nicely but otherwise doesn’t have much to do.

The doing, therefore, is in the hands of a six-man singing and acting troupe led by the redoubtable Gary Wilmot, who has generously given his time and his name to this piece for a nominal fee (we sat next to his lovely agent Jean Diamond) in support of his producer friend Andrew C. Wadsworth, another excellent musical theatre actor whose credentials cover a couple of dozen West End shows starting with the original ‘posh’ sibling in ‘Blood Brothers’. Both should have known better.

You can’t fault the actors or singers because they give of their best, particularly strong contributions from Julie Jupp and Eaton James, in a series of entirely forgettable ‘charm songs’ and random sketches. The sketches are universally trite and predictable, and barely funny: the audience often didn’t know whether to laugh and even on an opening night packed with well-wishers, the applause at the end of each was scant. A wife celebrating her silver wedding at a hotel is surprised when her husband asks for a separation, a young couple bicker shoutily in bed without concluding their argument, in the best-observed and most naturalistic of them a couple argues about who should make use of some frozen embryos. If there’s a linking or common theme between the scenes we couldn’t find it, unless it’s about lost children and death by motorbike.

Although the ghosts are meant to be musing on 21st century social mores and moral dilemmas, the writing is shopworn and the plotting hackneyed. In the whole two and a half pointless and overwritten hours the scenes and sketches are so mis-matched and ill-judged they wouldn’t have made it into the script of a very late episode of ‘Terry and June’. Book by Carolyn Pertwee, yes from the same theatrical dynasty as the third Dr Who and herself more famous as the ‘bossy wife’ in the Stannah Stairlifts adverts.

Two of the pieces are Christmas-themed which makes you wonder at the timing of the show in March, and the most dire is the first-act climax on Christmas Eve where the mother is a school crossing lollipop lady (in uniform, even though they don’t work in school holidays), her son is engaged to a Muslim and her daughter to a Jew, the vicar comes to tea and her husband (Wilmot) is a closet Elvis impersonator.

The music is written by David Martin whose main (some say, only) claim to fame is that he was one third of the writing team for ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ which was given a cheesy afterlife by Barry Manilow. Here apart from being the earworm you carry home in preference to anything else in the song cycle, it’s shoehorned in at torch song tempo as an embarrassing closer for ghostly Penny.

Runs until 31st March

The Public ReviewsOriginally published on The Public Reviews.