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Early Doors: Apollo Hammersmith (and touring)

October 24, 2018

Seen at the performance on 2nd October 2018.

Do you like circuses? I loved this one. So glad I was in the regiment, not just wishing I was there.

If those phrases meant anything to you, then you too must be a fan of this mid 2000’s sitcom set in Northern pub “The Grapes.” Nothing ever happens, except that it does. Landlord Ken (John Henshaw) lives with mother Jean (Judith Barker) above the pub. He lusts after barmaid Tanya (Susan Cookson) and it is this triangle that forms the basis of this brand new just-for-stage script.

Downstairs, crotchety barfly Tommy (Nick Birkinshaw – his casting explained with a terrific one-liner) is the most instantly memorable of the drinking population. Corrupt coppers Phil (James Quinn) and Nige (Peter Wright) drop into the kitchenette (super stage design by Liz Ascroft) to regale Ken with their lazy exploits and relieve him of all spirits – literally.

Also back are likely lads Joe (Craig Cash) and Duffy (Phil Mealey) whose lives have moved on now that internet dating is possible. A good sub-plot involving Debbie (Lisa Millett) makes the most of this pair… when they can get their lines out and stop “corpsing,” that is.

Sadly, Eddie and Joan are gone, but replacements June (Vicky Binns) and Freddie (Neil Hurst) are in the spirit and deliver the odd line to great effect.

For nearly two hours, the Cash and Mealey script delivers a strong plot – nicely tied up by daughter Mel (Laura Woodward – pleasant singer, too). There’s old and new jokes, one-liners galore and space for genuine emotion not just pathos.

Frankly, you’ve got to admire the intelligence of the writing and love any show opening with a fabulous musical theatre back-reference. That’s both confidence and class.

The newcomers to the cast, mostly replacing actors who have passed away… plus a few way too expensive to do this old tat (joke) blend in seamlessly with the old regulars. Both they and the audience are as one, having a good time and also finding out a little more about ourselves and humanity in the process.

Fans will love this, newcomers may well get the appeal and want to watch the original programmes.

To the regiment, glad I was there.

 

4 stars.

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