Craig Cash and Phil Mealey
24 July 2019 - 3 August 2019; 2hr 20min
This stage version of the BBC2 sitcom was something of a phenomenon when it premiered at The Lowry last year, selling out its three-week run and embarking on an arena tour, where again the crowds packed in.
While we wait to see if the Beeb will take any notice of the online petition to commission another series, it’s back on stage again now with much the same cast – and getting much the same enthusiastic audience reaction, applauding the characters as they make their entrances and culminating in a standing ovation. And how often does that happen at a play?
For those who haven’t caught up with the cult, Early Doors is something of a mix of Coronation Street at its most whimsical and The Royle Family. So, very, very Northern – the cloth cap sort of seaside postcard-style entertainment with Thora Hird you might have seen at the Blackpool Grand back in the 1950s (as in fact I did).
It’s set in The Grapes, a Stockport pub and, as on TV, the live show has the formidable John Henshaw at its centre as Ken, the landlord, filling glasses, telling yarns and generally displaying an old-fashioned sort of gruff charm.
There’s not a great deal of plot – Ken proposing to barmaid Tanya is the main thread that holds the evening together. Overall, it’s a pretty gentle – though often pretty crude and rude – piece about a group of quirky characters doing not very much but providing the writers with opportunities to pack their script with enough one-liners to keep the laugh level pretty high throughout.
There are plenty of catchphrases too – such as “crime doesn’t crack itself” – that produce gleeful audience participation, and there’s a big musical finish that underlines its aim to please and gets the fans on their feet.
Stand-outs include Judith Barker as Ken’s mother Jean, determined to stop her son’s planned proposal. Creators Phil Mealey and Craig Cash have a telepathic relationship that makes their Duffy and Joe pals act entirely believable as they do a couple of stand-up spots, injecting topical references.
And then there’s Phil and Nige, the dodgy coppers who often stole the TV show and do so again here, with James Quinn and Peter Wright at their very best, reacting to the live audience.
It will help if you’re already a fan – as. at a guess, I suspect 90pc of the audience was. Coming to it cold, you might find it takes time to warm up. The first act lasts only around 40 minutes and you may feel just a little iffy at the interval. But the second 70 minutes or so really gathers itself: you will probably find yourself on your feet with everyone else.