Drawing: Celia Imrie as Miss Babs in Acorn Antiques: The Musical!

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Celia Imrie won the Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her role as Miss Babs in the 2005 production of ACORN ANTIQUES: THE MUSICAL at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Celia became known for her television collaborations with Victoria Wood and in 1985 she first played the infamous Miss Babs, the love lorn owner of Acorn Antiques, known for her frequent parodic flirtations with customers and her abuse of her housekeeper Mrs Overall (Julie Walters).

The sketches were a parody on the low budget British soap operas, in particular CROSSROADS, with its low production values, overacting, wobbly sets, appalling dialogue and improbable plots. The West End musical version, directed by Trevor Nunn, which also parodied successful musicals such as LES MISERABLES and CHICAGO  premiered in February 2005 and ran for a three-month sell-out season.

Celia  recently returned to the London stage to play Goneril in the just completed KING LEAR opposite Glenda Jackson at the Old Vic, where I caught up with her to sign this sketch of her as Miss Babs.

Drawing: Noises Off, starring Jonathan Coy, Janie Dee, Robert Glenister, Jamie Glover, Celia Imrie, Karl Johnson, Aisling Loftus, Amy Nuttall and Paul Ready

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Large cast, Winter weather, exposed stage door (actually there are very few covered stage doors at London theatres) was the bad news. The good news was they were all good signers if you were good enough to meet them.

I required the nine cast members of Noises Off to sign my sketch at the Old Vic in January 2012. In alphabetical order – Jonathan Coy, Janie Dee, Robert Glenister, Jamie Glover, Celia Imrie, Karl Johnson, Aisling Loftus, Amy Nuttall and Paul Ready. In signing order – completely different. I consulted a few of the ‘zombies’ to figure out the exit and entry behaviour of the said nine – who arrives early, who pops out for a ciggy (and possibly siggy) breaks, who stays back after the shows making sure the Pit Bar makes a profit that week.

A single ‘hit’ visit looked unlikely. Once again I aimed for a Saturday matinée. Hopefully a staggered entrance over an hour wold enable me to get the majority of them. Some had already beaten me – drat – but luckily Robert required some lunch and was happy, as always, to sign.

Janie was also inside, but she was having a nap in preparation for the two performances ahead. It’s a physically demanding show, so I could understand her reasons but that didn’t help my mission. An hour out from curtain and I had all but Celia (who had gone in through the front door to sort some tickets out for friends, so I was told) and Janie. The following Tuesday I collected the duo coming out on my way home from a ‘stalking’ raid in the West End. A successful ‘play’ in two acts!