Make Me An Offer
A Musical in 2 Acts: Book by Wolf Mankowitz; Music & lyrics by David Heneker and Monty Norman
Theatre Royal, Stratford East - 19th October 1959
New Theatre - 16th December 1959 (267 perfs)
Awards - Evening Standard Award for Best Musical 1959
Make Me An Offer is set in the world of the small-time antique dealers in and around the Portobello Road Market in London. Charlie, an expert in Wedgwood china, longs to own a beautiful piece for himself. His chance comes when he is involved in an auction for a complete (fake) Wedgwood room - and he ends up with a valuable (genuine) vase. Charlie's main rival dealer in the saga is the stunning Redhead, and his wife, Sally.
It is a few years ago (well, quite a few now), in the days when Wedgwood china and the Portobello Road were both fashionable. Charlie is a little market dealer who has a special knowledge of Wedgwood. It isn't a special knowledge which is particularly paying and so Charlie and Sally and baby Charles inhabit an undersized apartment where there isn't really space to live and where Charlie constantly barks his shins on the baby's pram trying to get into the kitchen and wishes there were no pram. And, although he doesn't know it yet, Sally is pregnant again.
In the Portobello Road Charlie has his stall. The top dogs of the market are the rival dealers Abe Sparta, who is also Charlie's landlord, and Morris Wendl. The two have only spoken in insults for years since an incident over the sale of some stuffed gorillas. Of course, they still do business with each other for men must live, but even now the stuffed gorillas need only to be mentioned to bring both men to apoplectic silence.
Today, for once, both of them have need of Charlie. There is to be a big demolition sale at Cramping Grange and both men have noticed the description in the catalogue of 'a panelled room with a superb frieze of Wedgwood bas-reliefs.' Each in turn tries to force Charlie to rally to his side with his expertise on Wedgwood. They know how, they are dealers to their guts. Charlie isn't. A vase which he can't sell by giving chapter and verse on its manufacture, Wendl straightaway sells to the same customer at twice the price by a heavy ladling on of sharp talk.
Charlie, unfortunately, cares about the objects he sells and that's no way to make money enough to buy his dream home. Perhaps a little less honesty might get him out of the hated flat, away from the omnipresent pram. In the meantime he can't give Sally enough money for the groceries: she gets sour, and he gets mad because he knows he can't provide. Together they get worse.
A stunning redhead with a cultured accent arrives in the market. She's not a customer; she's come to set up business and not on a barrow. She's taken the shop behind Charlie's stall, the shop he always meant to have when the day came that he had money. When she asks him to shift his barrow away from its traditional place at the front of her shop a little war breaks out, but the redhead wins. After all, 'Business Is Business'. And business, big business promptly turns up in the form of Messrs Mindel and Sweeting from the US of A, representing Mossie, the Chicago Antique King, and Andy's House of Antiques, California, in combination.
They go through the market like vacuum cleaners to the acknowledgement of the stallholders, quite conscious of their own significance and aware of the resale value of the mixture of culture and junk they are picking up. They are also on the trail of Cramping Grange and its Wedgwood Room, a point which doesn't escape Wendl and Sparta.
Charlie might be temporarily popular at the market with Wendl and Sparta vying for the favour of his expertise, but back home things are getting decidedly sticky. Sally can only bear the bickering and the apparent indifference because of her love for her husband (Love Him). She is not happy when she sees him encounter the redhead and when, after a hurried conversation, he grabs his hat and coat and hurries off with the woman, she has a hard time convincing herself that it's just business. He'd damn well better get back quickly.
The redhead has taken Charlie to Cramping Grange. She owns it. Not that that means she has money. She doesn't, that is why she needs Cramping to fetch good prices at the next day's sale. But she'll offer him £20 to cast an expert eye over the Wedgwood. When he tells her it is fake she ups the offer for a phony certificate to £30.00. But Charlie is a connoisseur. Worse, he's a connoisseur with a conscience and he won't compromise. Then the redhead shows him a vase and this time it's the real McCoy. It is beautiful. A thing like that Charlie has wanted to own all his life. She tells him 'Make Me an Offer'. It's a bit of bargaining that won't be done quickly so perhaps he'd better phone home and say he won't be back that night. As she sings, he phones. As the curtain falls, they look at each other.
At breakfast the next morning the bargaining for the vase still isn't finished and Charlie isn't cheered by the knowledge that Sally will never believe he spent the night on the couch, but eventually he settles that he'll pay the redhead twenty pounds down and eighty more after the sale where he won't let on that the Wedgwood Room is a fake.
When Sparta and Wendt arrive, Charlie does his stuff. Then the Americans arrive and battle smoke is in the air. It's going to be some break-up sale. The dealers wander about affecting to admire anything but the things they want as the selling gets under way, but Wendl has an extra card up his sleeve. He offers to make a ring with the Americans, with Charlie acting as a front, and they accept. Finally the sale gets to offering the Wedgwood Room. The bidding creeps up and in the end Sparta and Wendl cry pax and join together rather than risk paying a proper price for the goods: Charlie's bid of 650 guineas is allowed to win the day.
Back home Sally is chatting with as much forebearance as is possible to the brainless Gwen, Sparta's daughter. Gwen is a muddle-headed romantic with a gaping need for a man and her unthinking words wound the shaky Sally at every turn. When Charlie gets home the inevitable accusations tumble out. Charlie has his mind on the desperately wanted vase, while Sally is wanting to tell him she is pregnant. When she does, he stops short and leaves slowly.
Business comes back in the next scene, at the knock-out between the ring of dealers. Mindel and Sweeting end up buying the Wedgwood for £1500. That means there is a cut of £116 15s 8d for each of those in the ring and one share goes to Charlie. But everyone has come out of the sale all right. For the redhead it means a lucrative job with the American combine, aristocratically fronting their UK operation. For Wendl and Sparta it means the joining of forces in the face of a common prey as they unload the rest of their white elephants on the voracious trans-Atlantic buyers. Even the famous stuffed gorillas go. Then there's the vase. Charlie pays the eighty pounds balance out of his share and the redhead hands it over. 'All my life I've wanted to own something as good as this,' he murmurs. She reminds him that he's a professional dealer and walks out of his life.
Back home Charlie looks lovingly at his purchase. Sally, too, can understand its beauty. He should keep it, he loves it so. But Charlie isn't going to keep it; he's going to sell it at a really fine profit and the money will go towards that lock-up in the Portobello Road' where there'll be room for all four of them. He is going to sell it. He is.
- The Pram Song - Charlie and Sally
- Portobello Road - Dealers, Shoppers and Gwen
- Dog Eat Dog - Quartet of dealers with Wendl
- First Needle Recitative - Wendl and Sparta
- I Want a Lock-Up - Charlie with dealers
- If I Was A Man - Sally with Gwen and girls
- Business Is Business - Redhead with Dealers
- Americans' Entrance - Moishe and Paddy
- Concerning Fleas - Wendl and Sparta
- All Big Fleas - Wendl
- Fanfare For Fleas - Quartet of dealers
- Concerning Capital - Ensemble with Sweeting
- Love Him - Sally
- Sally's Lullaby - Sally
- Make Me An Offer - Redhead
- Whatever You Believe - Redhead and Charlie
- Second Needle Recitative - Wendl and Sparta
- Break Up - Chorus
- The Auction - Ensemble with Auctioneer
- It's Sort Of Romantic - Gwen - interpolation by Sally
- Knock-Out - Wendl and Ensemble
- Third Needle Recitative - Wendl and Sparta
- Charlie - a young dealer
- Sally - his wife
- Wendl - an important dealer
- Sparta - a demolition dealer
- Gwen - his daughter
- Redhead - a lady dealer
- Sweeting - an American dealer
- Mindel - an American dealer
- Fred - an unimportant dealer
- Moishe - a Jewish dealer
- Milton - a Cockney dealer
- Paddy - an Irish dealer
- Bernard - A Cockney dealer
- Taffy - a runner
- John True - a country auctioneer
Chorus of Stall-Holders, Trippers and Shoppers
The play is set in a world of dealers bounded by the Portobello Road, before Wedgwood was fashionable