Craig Cash is nervous. The co-creator of Early Doors with his lifelong friend Phil Mealey, he admits to being apprehensive about touring for the first time with a live stage version of the hugely-loved comedy about the regulars who congregate in the same Stockport pub every night.
Craig, who has also helped to create such popular sitcoms as The Royle Family, The Mrs Merton Show and Mrs Merton and Malcolm, confesses that, “I’ve never done theatre before. I’ve only performed live once, when I did a five-minute Royle Family charity sketch with Sue Johnston at the Old Vic. So the live tour of Early Doors is a whole new experience for me.”
Phil has just as many butterflies. “I’m nervous about it,” he acknowledges. “The last time I was on stage was when I played the Third Shepherd in the Nativity Play! Craig and I have never performed to an audience before. It will be daunting. If a bit we think is funny doesn’t get a laugh, we’ll think, ‘What have we done wrong?’ So Craig and I are relying on the cast to drag us through it.”
The live show has enjoyed a sold-out three-week run at Salford’s Lowry Theatre, and is now out on the road for a 12-date UK tour, which will take in the First Direct Arena in Leeds on October 5.
The television programme show generated enormously favourable reviews when it ran for two series on BBC2 between 2003 and 2004, with critics calling it everything from “faultless” to a “mini-masterpiece”.
The show remains widely adored. It paints a laugh-out-loud-funny, and yet often affecting picture of the misfits who gather in The Grapes with very predictable regularity. You can set your watch by the time they pitch up every evening.
In the live show, the action revolves round Ken (played by the marvellous John Henshaw), the long-suffering and warm-hearted landlord who has long carried a torch for his barmaid,Tanya (Susan Cookson).
Ken’s regulars include: the sardonic Joe (Craig) and his philandering friend Duffy (Phil); the miserable Old Tommy (Nick Birkinshaw), who suffers from a bad case of IBS (Irritable B***er’s Syndrome); Tanya’s friend Debbie (Lisa Millett), who leaves her kids in the car outside while she pops in for a quick half of cider; and the pub’s cleaner, Winnie (Joan Kempson).
They are joined by Phil (James Quinn) and Nige (Peter Wight), a couple of extremely lazy coppers who always have some dubious scam on the go. As they settle in for the first of a succession of free pints at The Grapes, they tut that, “Crime can’t crack itself.”
Craig outlines the plot of the live show, “It’s as if it’s a continuation of the TV series. All the regulars are still in The Grapes and their lives are going on. There are a few surprises, but obviously I can’t tell you about them or they wouldn’t be surprises anymore! All I can tell you is that it centres on a romance and a bromance. Ultimately, as Cilla would have put it, it’s going to be a lorra, lorra laughs.”
Phil says they have been delighted with the audience response so far. “It shows there is still a great affection and a great demand for Early Doors. A lot of people feel it’s like their little secret. It’s like when you think, ‘I love the fact I know this band and no one else does.’ It seems as if the show has only got more popular as time has gone on.
“I have people coming up to me all the time talking about it. It’s one of those programmes people buy on DVD and watch again and again. They keep watching it because when they’re laughing at one thing, they miss something else. There seems to be a groundswell of love for it.”
The pair, lifelong friends who first met as 15-year-old schoolboys, have certainly had a terrific time preparing for this show. “I hope that people feel the same after spending the evening with us,” says Craig.