Lowry Theatre, Salford, 4th September 2018
Review by Ian Hills, Wythenshawe FM 97.2
Early Doors, based in a Stockport pub, showing at the Lowry Theatre, is a night of good humour and laughter.
A BBC 2 sitcom from 15 years ago with a cult following, turned into a stage show, would seem a risky business but, with writers Craig Cash (the co-writer along with Caroline Aherne of ‘The Royle Family’ fame) and Phil Mealey at the helm, they have recreated The Grapes Pub, where the TV show was based, filled it with many of the original characters, and written an updated, two-hour live version.
The action of the 12 BBC 2 televised episodes from 2003-2004, where the lives of characterful regulars of The Grapes revolved around landlord, Ken, and his live-in mother and daughter, who rarely left the bar, was considered at the time to be well above your average sitcom.
Transferring from a TV sitcom series to a live stage production and retaining its early reputation was certainly achieved with fine performances from the cast who stayed true to the original TV series. They most certainly did. It was a wonderful, warm, feel-good celebration of the characters which stayed true to the original but never took itself too seriously.
Like the TV show, the story revolved around Ken, played with mastery by John Henshaw, and, like the TV show, the script sparkled with great one-liners and belly-laughs, so well written and timed to perfection, that the audience hardly had time to recover before being hit with another funny line.
From the moment Ken (the wonderful John Henshaw) opened the doors, on what was a clever, multi-layered version of the pub designed by Liz Ashcroft, to Roddy Frame’s ‘Small World’ TV theme tune, the audience knew they were in for a treat as each well-known character was warmly recognised. When the two ‘bent coppers,’ Phil and Nige, played by James Quinn and Peter Wight, walked on, the show’s catchwords, ‘crime won’t crack itself and evidence is the new buzzword, Ken,’ were fondly repeated by the cult followers in the audience.
It would not be fair to single out any performance, but Lisa Millett was brilliant as Debbie; Craig Cash and Phil Mealey were spot-on as Joe and Duffy, and the barbed banter between cleaner, Winnie (Joan Kempson) and Ken’s mum, Jean (Judith Barker) was very funny.
Also noteworthy was Nick Birkinshaw, as Tommy who suffers from IBS (Irritable b****r syndrome) as the resident misery old guy sat in the corner. Eddie and Joan soundalikes, Freddie and June (Neil Hurst and Vicky Binns) and Ken’s daughter, Mel (Laura Woodward) all contributed, as did Ken’s love-interest, Tanya, played with appropriate annoyance at Ken’s romantic shortcomings by Susan Cookson.
Without giving too much away, Ken’s daughter, Mel, sets up a meeting between Ken and Tanya in the pub which leads to a musical finale which was a joy to watch and earned a well-deserved standing ovation.
Even if, like this reviewer, you have not seen the TV series, go to see this. It is heart-warming, full of fun, and you will ache from laughing. Trebles all round to the Regiment.
The show will soon move from the 466-seat Quays theatre into the 1,730-seat Lyric theatre next door.
Early Doors runs until Saturday 22 September at The Lowry Theatre in Salford.
For tickets phone: 0843 208 6000 or book online at: thelowry.com/events/early-doors2.
There will be a performance at Manchester Arena on Thursday, 4th October 2018.