REVIEW: Early Doors, The Lowry - An utter joy from start to finish 3 years ago

REVIEW: Early Doors, The Lowry - An utter joy from start to finish

★★★★★

Bringing Early Doors to the stage was always an intriguing endeavour.

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The popularity of the original sitcom owed much to the intimacy of the experience. As with the Royle Family, its cast of characters was so rich and relatable, and the writing so beautifully understated, that you felt as though you were firmly within the fourth wall. Just another bum on the barstool or settee.

The question was always how it would translate from the box in the corner of your room to the vast expanse of an auditorium, where bigger is better and nuance is often lost in space. The nagging fear was that the humour would become necessarily broader and the whole thing would take on a panto feel.

Indeed, the Mrs Brownification of such a timeless and treasured comedy classic would have been too much to bear.

Thankfully that's nowt to worry about. This theatre production of Early Doors is an utter joy from start to finish. Not only does it do the television version justice, but the live experience is enhanced by key elements that totally justify its adaptation to the stage. Having seen it, you will proudly boast that you were there.

The first thing that hits you is the wonderful set. The twin level staging is gorgeously rich in detail and character, and lovingly faithful to the Grapes. Even the outdoor smoking area feels real. It immediately relaxes you into familiar surrounds, as John Henshaw's dulcet tones welcome you back to everyone's favourite fictional local.

You find yourself emotionally invested from the start, as the slow-burning romance between Ken (Henshaw) and Tanya (Susan Cookson) is quickly established as the main theme. Both Henshaw and Cookson do a wonderful job of infusing the comedy with heart and dramatic weight. It's not just funny, you care about these people.

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The first half is partly about setting the scene, and establishing the sit in the com, and part overdue reunion. Most of the telly cast are present and correct, with the addition of some new faces to freshen things up. Sadly the sweet innocence of Eddie and Joan is missing, but there's a cheeky (and effective) solution to their absence.

Early Doors was always an ensemble effort, but watching it live highlights the number of great double-acts amongst its patrons. Bent coppers Nige and Phil threaten to steal the show, Joe and Duffy's enduring bromance is as strong as ever, whilst Winnie and Jean gossiping upstairs earn some of the biggest laughs.

As an aside, I doubt either Craig Cash or Phil Mealey would claim to be at the forefront of the feminist cause, but they have always made female characters central to their stories, and write for women so well. Certainly it is refreshing to have such a gender balance here and the show is so much richer for it.

As enjoyable and reassuring as the first half is, the show is elevated to another level post-interval. Misery guts Tommy becomes a surprisingly focal character, and there's a wickedly funny comedy of errors for the Tinder age. And of course there's a resolution to Ken and Tanya's tempestuous love story.

I don't think it's giving too much away to reveal that there's a musical finale which is the cherry on top of the Manchester tart. It's so good that it recalls some of Victoria Wood's best musical skits. Again it is an element that could so easily have slipped into panto territory but never does. In fact it's hard to believe Cash and Mealey are such theatrical novices.

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Together they pull off the trick of making Early Doors Live as entertaining for the uninitiated newcomer as it is for the diehard fan. This is a slice of northern life that is so lovingly specific and so well observed that it becomes universal. If it doesn't result in a third series I'll be gobsmacked. And yes, to mangle the famous refrain, I'm glad I was there.


Early Doors Live tours the UK until 7 October. For tickets and venues visit earlydoorslive.com