The hit live show of cult comedy Early Doors will be back for one special charity event – and it might be the last chance for fans to see it again.
The special charity screening of the Early Doors tour, which played to packed arenas and theatres across the country in 2018 and 2019, will take place at a drive in cinema event in the grounds of Arley Hall near Northwich at the weekend, with stars of the show also in attendance for an exclusive Q&A.
And, following the event, the recorded performance, never screened before, will be available to download for a limited time to raise more funds for The Christie hospital charity.
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Show co-creator Phil Mealey, who plays Duffy, will be at the event on Saturday July 31, and tells the MEN it will be a special night.
He laughs: “I’ve never seen it live myself, so I’m looking forward to watching it in my car with the window wound down and have everyone shouting the catchphrases at me.”
The BBC sitcom, which was written by and starring Phil and his pal Craig Cash, was famously set in the mythical Stockport pub, The Grapes.
It gained cult status when it first aired in 2003 and ran for 12 episodes across two series – before returning as a sell-out stage show phenomenon in 2018-2019.
Craig Cash and Phil Mealey in Early Doors in 2003
The cast of regulars will be turning out at the first ever big screen showing of their live theatre performances, and you can join them and hear all about their characters and life at The Grapes.
Even now, Phil says he and Craig can barely believe what a phenomenon the live tour became.
They initially booked just a week of shows at The Lowry’s smaller theatre – when they sold out it got moved to the bigger Lyric theatre.
Demand just grew and grew with more dates added and swiftly selling out, to which then was added a national tour and then arenas.
Phil says: “We just weren’t sure what the fanbase was for it, so we initially booked the 500 seater at The Lowry – but then it all went crazy, we did not expect the kind of momentum it gained. We even sold out the Hammersmith Arena in that there London – I thought there must be lots of ex-pats down there desperate to hear the northern accent! It was just amazing.
Actors Craig Cash and Phil Mealey at The Lowry Theatre in 2019
(Image: Manchester Evening News)
“Because it escalated the way it did, we never planned for a DVD or anything like that, but of course people were saying afterwards ah man it would have been really good to have a DVD of it – especially when lockdown happened.
“I was speaking to our production manager and he said well you know when you played the arenas, they projected it onto those big screens – and the company had kept the footage themselves so let’s have a look at it. It was really good – I said to Craig, it was a gift really because we didn’t expect it, so it would be really good to pass that gift on if we could in some way.
Early Doors characters, Duffy (Phil Mealey) and Joe (Craig Cash)
“So we thought we could edit it and get it together for The Christie, as a charity it’s something relevant to everybody even if it’s not you directly.
“It just felt like we’ve been given a little gift so we should pass that good fortune on if you like. So we’d got in touch with the Christie, edited it and it’s come out really well.”
Phil adds: “We’re just dead excited. Loads of people who came to the show will want to watch it again, when you watch something live there’s always something you miss.”
Duffy (PHIL MEALEY), Joe (CRAIG CASH) and Ken (JOHN HENSHAW)
The live show won rave reviews and awards including the MEN CityLife Award for best theatre show in 2019.
Phil laughs: “I’m a northerner so I don’t like showing off, really I don’t! But every performance we had a standing ovation at the end, it’s a real feel good show. It’s one of those things that I suspect people thought are they going to ruin it live? But the fans really enjoyed it.”
As for what’s next, Phil says the live show was pretty much last orders for Early Doors – so this could well be the last chance fans get to see it again.
Despite the huge success of the tour, he says the BBC have never been in touch about bringing the show back to TV.
Phil sighs: “We did the live show, but nobody from the BBC came to see the shows.
“It’s crazy to think we went around the country selling out arenas, but I really don’t think we fit in to today’s genre of comedy, we just don’t fit in to it.”
The critically acclaimed show won Best Theatre Show at the MEN City Life Awards
(Image: Manchester Evening News)
As for another Early Doors tour? He says: “We never say never, there’s a good chance we might write one again, but it will probably be based around a care home with Ken manning the bar, and old Tommy will be cryogenically frozen in the corner somewhere.”
But Phil and Craig have written a new play that they hope to get out on the road soon.
Phil says: “We had this really good idea in January 2020, and because we enjoyed Early Doors so much, we thought what would be great is we’ll write a play, it’s a comedy play, it’s just laugh laugh all the way.
“This sounds like a great idea what could possibly go wrong? Then March came and lockdown.
“We thought well OK we’ll keep on writing for it. We’re searching for a venue now but most venues are booked out ’til 2022, we want somewhere we could play and maybe tour it.
“It’s called Can’t do right for Doing Wrong and it’s about a guy who runs a guest house in Blackpool having marital problems. He’s having counselling that his wife doesn’t know about and you see upstairs in his house. Only four characters in it but it’s just really funny, quite farcey.”
Phil is also busy writing a musical with plans for a showcase later this year.
The Early Doors charity screening will see the show’s regulars John Henshaw (put-upon landlord Ken), James Quinn (crooked local bobby Phil), Lisa Millett (pub regular Debbie) and Neil Hurst (pub bore Freddie in the live show) and Nick Birkinshaw (gloomy pub regular Tommy in the live show) back with Phil in the beautiful surroundings of Arley Hall and Gardens in Cheshire at 7pm on Saturday July 31st.
Louise Stimson, head of fundraising at The Christie charity, said: “To be able to host such an exclusive event for diehard fans of one of the best comedy programmes of its generation is a dream come true for our charity.
“We all remember how brilliantly funny it was at the time, and its popularity has only grown ever since, so be able to raise some funds and host an exclusive screening of the live stage show is just amazing.
“With the cast members present as well, it really is a must for Early Doors fans and we can’t wait to see you all there.”
Tickets are £30 per car and to book visit here. Refreshments will be available to buy on the night.
A download of the film will also be available to rent, after the screening, for a limited period of time.
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