Theatre Review: EARLY DOORS – The Lowry, Salford

Lisa Millett, Craig Cash, John Henshaw and Phil Mealey in EARLY DOORS

Lisa Millett, Craig Cash, John Henshaw and Phil Mealey in EARLY DOORS. Photo Credit: Nathan Cox

Staying true to the original, EARLY DOORS is packed full of witty one-liners, belly-laughs and a little old-fashioned crudity for a night of charm and nostalgia

4 out of 5 stars

It’s been 15 years since the BBC called last orders on EARLY DOORS but there’s plenty of life still left in Craig Cash and Phil Mealey’s comedy as this Northern sitcom takes to the stage for the final time at Salford’s The Lowry.

Set in a fictional The Grapes pub in Stockport, EARLY DOORS follows the daily lives of pub landlord Ken Dixon and his regulars as they navigate their way through issues of love, loneliness and blocked urinals. Not much has changed in the last 15 years with the stage version staying true to the original, the story picking up pretty much where it stopped in 2004, albeit with a few nice twists.

The unrequited love story between Ken (John Henshaw) and part-time barmaid Tanya (Susan Cookson) is revisited, as the hapless landlord attempts to get up the guts to ask her to marry him. Elsewhere, Joe (Craig Cash) is fed up of being ignored by his family and threatens to leave them while Duffy (Phil Mealey) tries his hand at online dating. All the while, local coppers Phil and Nige (James Quinn and Peter Wight) are getting stuck in… to a couple of pints in the back room. After all, “Crime can’t crack itself.”

Those familiar with the TV sitcom will know that the real joy in EARLY DOORS lies in its underplayed charm. Cash and Mealy are expert in finding the funny in everyday exchanges and their script is sparkled with great one-liners, plenty belly-laughs and a sprinkling of old-fashioned crudity.

Liz Ascroft’s two-storey set makes the most of the space with the incredibly detailed pub bar, backroom and upstairs quarters providing the backdrop for this understated comedy. A funny musical number has also been thrown in for good measure with director Caroline Jay Ranger allowing the actors to break the fourth wall on occasion.

Much of the original cast have been reconvened, although the likes of James McAvoy and Maxine Peake are understandable absent considering their recent rise to stardom.

Craig Cash and Phil Mealey reprise their roles as best friends Joe and Duffy, their natural chemistry and ab-libbing delivering some of the biggest laughs of the night. John Henshaw is also excellent as Ken, playing the sarcastic landlord with his usual dour, sad-sack brilliance.

But the best of the comedy lies with bent coppers Phil and Nige – played by James Quinn and Peter Wight – who steal the show with their escalating series of hilarious indiscretions.

The only real disappointment is the absence of Mark Benton and Lorraine Cheshire as Eddie and Joan (my favourite characters) although Neil Hurst and Vicky Binns who take over (as the retitled Freddie and June) are just as excellent, the characters personalities pretty much the same, right down to the mundane obsession with the temporary traffic lights.

Despite a strong first half, the script loses some of its focus in the second half and the odd joke seem a little cheap at times – a few quips about Tommy’s irritable bowel particularly spring to mind here – but, in the main, this is EARLY DOORS at its best.

Whether you’re a fan of the original TV show or not, this stage version is so full warmth and wit that it should appeal well beyond its core fan base.

EARLY DOORS runs at The Lowry, Salford until 3 August 2019