Saturday, 27 July 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Early Doors - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

Early Doors is a BBC sitcom written by Craig Cash and Phil Mealey who also appear in the series playing best friends Joe and Duffy. To those who love it, the show needs no introduction, however to those who missed this gem on TV, the setting is The Grapes, a small local pub in Stockport where daily life revolves around the issues of love, loneliness and blocked urinals. The stage show brings back almost all of the original cast from the TV series 15 years on, reflecting on many of the changes in the years missed.

Staging a TV sitcom on a stage is no easy feat. On TV it is easy to switch from room to room effortlessly. Not so on a stage and I have to say that the set was very impressive, encompassing not only the main area of the pub, but including an outside smoking area, the upstairs living room and the kitchenette which magically appears with a very clever reveal.

The first act contained many of the scenes we have come to know and love from the TV series. The main thread being Ken preparing to propose to his long-suffering barmaid Tanya. This familiarity was a clever move as the audience could immediately be allowed to reminisce over the TV series, but more importantly, it allowed the newer members of the cast to relax into their characters and complete the familiarity an audience craves when watching something we have loved on TV. Additionally, it allowed any audience members who were not familiar with the show time to grow to love the cast and the dynamics between them.

Moments that were particularly memorable include Tommy waddling across stage to the toilet and then appearing with his trousers around his ankles, suffering from IBS - explained graciously by Ken as Irritable B*****d Syndrome. The verbal sparring between Winnie and Jean about their respective sons and the revelation that Ken’s Dad was not who Ken thought he was, and Duffy's admission to Joe that he has entered into the cesspool that is internet dating - with the screen name 'Conrad Silver' (who owned a yacht and frequented a number of islands in the Bahamas).

Each character had the opportunity to excel and they did. Phil and Nige's grumbling about new-fangled police techniques which require them to collect so-called 'evidence' in order to arrest a criminal were brilliant, they explained "In the good old days, we simply found a crime and picked a criminal we liked, and we fit the two together". A joke thrown out for the sharp ones in the audience was the changing dispatch codes of their unit, using the phonetic alphabet to spell out swear words. Such a small but fantastically witty detail.

Act two, however, was where the show truly shined. New material seemed to fit more than the first half as it felt more written for the stage. The memorable moments all encompassed love; Duffy's online romance, Jean and Tommy's previous (or is it?) romance, Joe's marital issues and, of course, the reconciliation of Tanya's rejection of Ken's marriage proposal.

A moment of improv really stood out. Joe (played by writer and local lad Craig Cash) is on the phone to his mother in the smoking area explaining the reasons why his wife is leaving him. A member of the audience in the front row found the scene particularly funny and, unfortunately for her, had an incredibly distinct seal-like laugh. "Someone throw her a fish will ya?" Craig laughed, completely out of character. One of the biggest cheers of the night came a few seconds later when Craig continued to improvise while still on the phone, "Welcome to the real world? Yeah well it's not all it's cracked up to be... hang on... who's the new Prime Minister?! ...what could possibly go wrong?" His cheeky smile at the audience had everyone in bits and when Phil joined the scene a few moments later he built on Craig's brilliance, joking "…wait until she tells you about who's President of the United States".

The plot threads were nicely tied together with the revelation that Duffy's latest online romance was with Debbie (under an equally exaggerated personality and ludicrous screen name), Tommy's discovery that he is, in fact, Ken's father (done with a brilliant Star Wars reference) and the eventual resolution of Tanya and Ken's relationship - through a musical number from the entire cast, no less.

The song ('One More Chance') was hilarious and again gave each character a moment in the spotlight. It allowed the audience to leave with a sense of contentment and a huge smile. Overall, not only was the show enjoyable across generations (18+, of course) but it created an atmosphere that every writer wants: an experience that is jovial, light-hearted and good-natured - a show that makes you proud to be Northern.

The cast received a standing ovation which was truly deserved. Interesting to see 5 members of the cast in the bar afterwards chatting and having selfies taken with their fans, just a perfect finish to an evening with friends in The Grapes.

Runs until 3rd August - grab a ticket if you can.

Reviewer - Jen O'Beirne
on - 25/7/19

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