Open All Hours, an adaptation of Roy Clarke’s sitcom, is coming to the Lichfield Garrick on Saturday and Sunday,20th and 21st, of September. It has toured around the Midlands, taking in Burton on Trent, Stamford, Redditch, Solihull and Shrewsbury. I caught up with co- director Jane Aston to discover the background to this revival of an evergreen show.
Q Tell us a little bit about yourself and Gary Simmons who between you have realised this show.
Gary and I have acted in, directed and produced shows for many, many, years. It’s always been a passion to take a flat script and make it come to life, the journey a production takes is always exciting, but Open All Hours has been the most wonderful experience so far! We knew some of what we were undertaking as we had directed other television classics in the past but nothing prepared us for the magnitude of adapting a national treasure!
Q. This is billed as having been co-written with Gary Simmons who also stars as Arkwright in the show. How have the writing duties been split between the two of you?
We worked side by side on the script, once we had watched every single episode a couple of times we set about weaving together the story lines that appealed to us and the iconic moments the audience would expect. We are a true team and did it all together. Gary taking on the role of Arkwright was not the intention during the writing stage, nor did I have any desire to join the cast. Once the script was written, and we had held a couple of casting read- throughs, it was clear to me that Gary was most definitely the shows Arkwright, also I couldn’t imagine anyone else directing our script, so I decided to direct and I cast Gary as Arkwright.
Q. Obtaining permission from the television series script writer for a stage adaptation is a remarkable achievement. What was the process, and how were you successful in gaining permission?
This I can not take any credit for, Gary did all the leg work, he has always been a huge fan, and as the show celebrated it’s 40th anniversary last year he tracked down Mr Clarke’s agent and asked if we could do the show as a tribute. Roy came back and said yes but there wasn’t a script so if we wanted to do it we would have to write it, the rest is now history!
Q. What was it about the show which made you invest so much time into this project?
The fact that it’s been a life long favourite.
Q. How did you recruit the cast?
We were working with a society at the time and just asked if any of them would like to audition, many of them had worked with us before, they like how we work and what we bring to a script and wanted to be part of the project, it took very little persuasion, although you always encounter a few doubting Thomas’s I think our track record gave people the confidence to trust us.
Q. You and Gary have a formidable reputation on the amateur dramatics circuit in the Midlands, is this an amateur, or a professional, production?
Oooh contentious question! Professional is the simple answer, but what defines amateur or professional? It may sound pompous, but I like to think everything we do carries an air of professionalism, that’s certainly what we strive for, and what many groups and societies achieve. We are all professionals, those who are involved in theatre are dedicated to providing first class entertainment just because some don’t carry equity cards or have to juggle other jobs doesn’t make it less professional.
Q What were the main challenges in adapting the show for stage?
The locations that the television episodes cover, there was always a lot of outside location stuff so we had to think very carefully how to stage it, I think being actors really helps you know if something is practical.
Q At what point did you realise you could tour the production and do you intend to tour it further afield?
After the first trial run, we received so many good comments, and so many people said we should tour, that we thought why not? Yes, we do hope to go out again next year . As for further afield, we’ve had enquiries from Australia!
Q What is it about the original television series which you think has made it so enduring?
The characters are so well drawn, if you look you can see a little bit of us all in every one of them.
Q So is this a “ greatest moments” compilation, or a new production in its own right?
A bit of both, you have to meet the audience expectation. With shows of this nature you can not mess around with the fundamentals, people expect to see the man eating till, the bike, and a string of strange customers, but there are a few surprises in there too.
Q What are your plans for future productions?
That would be telling but watch this space…..
Thanks to Jane Aston for her time, and comments. Don’t forget to check out the show this weekend!
Tickets and further information are available from the Lichfield Garrick and Open all Hours website respectively: