Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Writer Matt Forrest
Some 14 years ago, Stockport’s most famous pub, The Grapes closed its doors for the last time; the setting of the much cherished Craig Cash and Phil Mealey penned sitcom, whilst only spanning 12 episodes the show garnered huge critical success, and developed an enormous fan base. When the show wasn’t recommisioned in 2004 it came as a bit of shock.
Fast forward to 2018 and it’s great to see that The Grapes has flung its doors open once more for a series of live theatre and arena shows, starting with a sell-out residency at the Lowry.
The live show is very much a continuation of the TV series as we are reacquainted with much-loved characters and introduced to some new, all be it familiar characters. It is to the shows credit that most of the original cast have returned to the show; however, I doubt that they needed much persuading.
This is not just a nostalgia trip trotting out old gags and catchphrases. Cash and Mealey have created a new show which see’s Grapes landlord Ken (John Henshaw) plucking up the courage to propose to part-time barmaid Tanya (Susan Cookson). However things don’t go to plan, with the intervention of Ken’s mum Jean (Judith Barker), and also some big-mouthed if well-meaning locals, newcomers Freddie and June (Vicky Binns and Neil Hurst) who also upset Ken’s plan.
In addition best friends Duffy (Mealey) and Joe (Cash), have their own issues: The former delving into the world of online dating, and the latter having some family strife. In addition, there are several appearances from local bent coppers: Phil (James Quinn) and Nige (Peter Wight) who struggle with rules and regulations like “evidence” getting in the way of good honest coppering!
Whether you’re a diehard fan or coming to Early Doors Live fresh, this show will leave you entertained and with a huge grin on your face. Packed full of stingy one-liners, pathos and a great deal of heart the show continues to focus on the same themes that made the series a success: love, loneliness, friendship and family, the regulars in the Grapes are undoubtedly one big although often dysfunctional family not to dissimilar to another Cash and Mealey project: The Royale Family.
The cast are on great form: those returning to the fold like Henshaw and Joan Kempson, as the sharp-tongued Winnie, instantly make you forget about their 14 year absence. Whilst newcomers Vicky Binns, Neil Hurst, and Nick Birkinshaw as skinflint Tommy, fit in like Grapes regulars.
There was such anticipation about the show tonight that the theatre was literally buzzing, however at times some audience members tried to interact and call out during the show which was not only distracting for the cast but a little frustrating for the audience, perhaps they’d had one or two ales too many in the Grapes earlier.
The surprising sing-along finale is an unexpected treat and a fitting joyous end to a highly entertaining evening. As the show closed, the cast are given a well-deserved standing ovation, with people hoping for a legendary Grapes lock in, however this was not to be.
I can guarantee that in the theatre and arena bars across the land crowds will be raising a glass and toasting “To the regiment! I wish I was there!” Well I was and it was an absolute treat.
Early Doors continues at the Lowry until 22nd September click here for more information.