Early Doors

4 October
Manchester Arena

It ran for only two series of six shows each, was loved by many, and people still talk in affectionate terms about it. If you think I'm talking about Fawlty Towers, then you would be wrong. This is Early Doors, set in a northern pub rather than a hotel, but still housing a crowd of everyday, easily recognisable, and much cared for characters.

The series finished in 2004, but 14 years on Manchester Arena was filled to the brim with some people too young to have ever seen the series the first time around.

Those who watched it first time around, or have since caught up, will know and love its sharp dialogue, which is just as pristine and shiny in this 90-minute stage production.

"I had to drop off the kids with their dad. Bolton, Blackburn and Burnley," explains Debbie (Lisa Millett), providing a subtle comment on today’s blended family arrangement.
"Well, I knew you were a bus driver," replies OAP Tommy.
“You were only on for two stops,” Debbie fires back.

The script by Craig Cash (Joe) and Phil Mealey (Duffy) has been updated to cater for the smoking ban in pubs and the rise of online dating services, creating a hook-up scenario that evokes knowing laughter from the audience.

Police officers Phil (James Quinn) and Nige (Peter Wright) are present, and that wicked, high-pitched squeal that is Phil’s version of a laugh, is genuine, no sound effects required.

The crowd joined in with catchphrases such as, "Crime won't crack itself," or "For the regiment. I wish I was there."

It was all held together with the always superb John Henshall (Ken), exploring his would-be relationship with Tanya (Susan Cookson).

The set was cleverly created and lit, with Ken's mum, Jean (Judith Barker), locating her boudoir above the bar, and the kitchen table that Nige and Ken imbibed from is tucked away to one side. This setup eliminated any delays in continuity, with fast switches between scenes. Jokes flowed rapidly between all the characters, with Winnie (Joan Kempson) delivering some obvious, and some not so obvious, double entendres to Jean.

Even newcomers Neil Hurst (Freddie) and Laura Woodward (Mel) dropped in as smoothly as a pint pulled by Ken.

If there was any doubt about the re-imagination’s success, it was dispelled by the standing ovation from the crowd.

Ged Camera