IN this forlorn year of fallen stars, Victoria Wood exited stage left in April and with her sudden passing went the Flanders and Swann cum Joyce Grenfell of her and our times.

Wednesday is invariably not the busiest of theatre-going nights, but the JoRo was as good as packed for the second performance of comedy queen Victoria's musical, such is her abiding pulling power and the fond memories of her TV parody of woeful Seventies' soap operas, hapless Crossroads et al.

All the regulars are back, including the marigold gloves and the macaroons, bolstered by a significant family newcomer, for a daft but deftly told story of the lives and loves of the staff of Acorn Antiques and their neighbouring shops in the fictional yet somehow familiar northern town of Manchesterford.

In Wood's wittily observed mundane world, these are changing times for the high street with the march of the super-chains, coffee shops, and fashionable boutiques and salons that specialise in tanning, botox, thongs and other such faddish things. Never mind the botox, can Acorn Antiques' tweedy twin sisters, Kathryn Addison's Miss Babs and Kelly Derbyshire's Miss Berta, hold out against progress as, one by one, the neighbours give up the fight?

What's more, can they focus on the task in hand when the perennially positive Miss Berta is still love-struck on fiance Mr Clifford (Mick Liversidge), who remains stuck in a corridor of amnesia after an antiques accident, while the desperate, bosomy shop owner Miss Babs has the hots for loan shark Tony (John Haigh) from Credit Cronies?

York Press:

Can Miss Babs (Kathryn Addison) save her shop? Picture: Andrea Denniss Pink Lily Photography

Their task can only be harder when a third sister, Kayleigh Oliver's brusque Miss Bonnie, arrives with her own modernising agenda that sets her against Jessa Liversidge's blunt Brummie Mrs Overall, the varicose-veined cleaner who is as ancient as carbolic soap and needs to use it to wash out her mouth.

Stretched out from a sketch show to a musical of two hours and more besides, Acorn Antiques feels too drawn out in the first half, where not all the comedy hits home, but the characterisation really blossoms in a brisker second act that is far superior. Mick Liversidge is a master of comic gesture and timing as the immaculate, bewigged Mr Clifford; Jessa Liversidge echoes Julie Walters' Brummie accent and bent-double gait while turning up Mrs Overall's bawdy backchat a notch or two.

Derbyshire and Addison play their retro leads with a dash of pastiche, their stylised mannerisms enhancing the send-up, and Haigh and Oliver relish being the baddies of the piece. Look out too for the comic cameos of Matthew Ainsworth and Amy Lacy's "pitiful" work experience duo, Hugh and Mimi, and Larry Gibson and knee injury-defying Malcolm Poole's gay couple, plus a celebrity guest spot on screen from a Kelfield comedy legend.

All the while, director Paul Laidlaw, co-choreographer Nic Jenkins and musical director Ben Papworth bring energy and fun and even a little poignancy to Wood's astute musical send-ups, from Cabaret to Bob Fosse tap, in the show's consistently strongest asset.

Acorn Antiques, The Musical, York Musical Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 501935 or at