Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights Live
Last Sunday, I found myself back in my native North West of England, taking a little time out from 'that' London. In fact, I seem to be spending quite a bit of time Oop North lately. After a lovely, mince-pie-and-sherry-fuelled Christmas, I returned to my village for the last weekend in January's annual (and now infamous) Bent & Bong's Beer Bash, which always resembles something you would see on an episode of Peter Kay's Bolton-centric extravaganza known as 'Phoenix Nights.' And speaking of said piece of Channel 4 television gold, the following night I fought off the horrific lingerings of a hangover, to take the local train into Manchester Victoria with my ticket for the opening night of Peter Kay's 'Phoenix Nights Live. The original cast were all getting back together for the benefit of Comic Relief and were gearing themselves up for 15 sold out nights at Manhester Arena, where Mr. Kay famously worked as a yellow-coated steward in younger years. This would be the first cast reunion since the second (and final) series of Phoenix Nights, which aired in 2002.
Being Bolton-born and Bolton-bred, Peter Kay and Phoenix Nights have always held a special place in my hotpot-loving heart and I looked forward greatly to seeing the Phoenix Club live on stage. This wouldn't be the first time, I had witnessed a live adaptation of a TV series. I had previously seen 'Birds of a Feather' at The Lowry in Salford Quays, as well as 'Street of Dreams: The Coronation Street Musical' also at Manchester Arena, to varying degrees of success. Now, it was time for Brian Potter and company to take the reigns.
As the curtain went up and Mr. Potter was descending (painfully) slowly down a staircase on a stairlift, I thought to myself: "This is going to be right up my cobbled street!" However, I soon realised that the format for the evening would be something completely different to what I was expecting. I had come in the hopes of seeing a two hour (or more) stage adaptation of an extended episode of Phoenix Nights - with a proper script, a ridiculous plotline, and actual sets (or even just one set - the interior of the Phoenix Club recreated on stage). Unfortunately, and I feel a little lazily, the evening took the form of Brian Potter wheeling on and off the stage intermittently as a kind of Emcee introducing individual members of the original cast, who would grace the bare stage to perform a solo set of about ten minutes each for the audience. Kenny Senior (played by Archie Kelly) performed his best impression of Simply Red's Mick Hucknall with the end of a red mop on his head, Holy Mary (Janice Connolly) included the first two rows of the audience in a tongue-in-cheek raffle and karaoke session, Young Kenny (Justin Moorhouse) was the world's worst stand-up comic and Ray Von (Neil Fitzmaurice) rocked a DJing session (including renditions of Rolf Harris' 'Two Little Boys,' Gary Glitter's 'You Wanna Be In My Gang,' and the theme tune from 'Jim'll Fix It').
The real drama of the evening took place, however, just into the second act, as the show's antagonist Den Perry (played by Ted Robbins) had apparently broken out of Strangeway's prison and performed a rendition of The Prodigy's hit 'Firestarter' (a reference to his crime of arson in the TV show). A few minutes later, Mr. Robbins kealed over and went down like a ton of bricks on stage. As he lay there flat on his back, a first bemused 20,000 strong audience looked on in silence wondering if this was part of the show. As stage hands crawled on to check on him and the curtain was eventually lowered, the hush turned into a stunned silence. It became evident that there was, in fact, a real life emergency going on behind the curtain. Eventually, fellow cast member Toby Foster came out with a microphone apologising to us all, as they would have to cancel the performance. It was such a strange sensation filing out of the arena quietly, amongst hords of strangers all with a slightly shocked expression on their faces. Of course, we all held Mr. Robbins in our thoughts and were praying for his health and well-being. As I passed the Comic Relief merchandise stand, the juxtaposition of moods could not have been more dissimilar. I was relieved to read online later, that he had been taken to Manchester Royal Infirmary and was in 'a stable condition.'
Of course, Den Perry's individual scene was cut from the programme for the remainder of the performances, and thankfully those who attended that first (and fateful) night were invited back to an added Sunday matinee performance on the 15th February. As I happened to be back in Manchester anyway that weekend (and had after all forked out £60+ for a ticket), I went along once more to see the show in its entirety (including an appearance by Patrick 'Paddy' O'Shea, played by Paddy McGuiness).
If one wish could be granted to me by Peter Kay, one of my favourite comedians, I would love to see the Phoenix Club do a limited run in the West End. The fact that Phoenix Nights Live was able to sell out the Manchester Arena for 15 nights proves that people are more than willing to pay good money for a bit of Boltonian nostalgia. How blooming brilliant would it be to see the full cast in a proper stage version of Phoenix Nights? Maybe Ted Robbins could even make a stage comeback (and rise like a Phoenix from the ashes) after his unfortunate collapse? What do you say, Peter?