Open All Hours started life as a BBC television sitcom created, and written, by Roy Clarke for the BBC. It ran for 26 episodes in four series from 1976 to 1985 and regularly features in the Top Ten of best ever sitcoms. Clarke also created Last of the Summer Wine, which featured during its long run Bill Owen, Peter Sallis, Brian Wilde, Kathy Staff and Dame Thora Hird in leading roles. At its peak, Last of the Summer Wine had over 18 million viewers.
But this is a stage adaptation by renowned local dramatists Gary Simmons, and Jane Aston , who co-produce and co-direct , having gained the permission of Clarke to adapt and present this show for theatre. They also perform in it. Clarke’s endorsement, and that of Sir David Jason who starred in the television series, is a glowing testimony to their talents.
The setting is a small grocer’s shop in Balby, a suburb of Doncaster in South Yorkshire, which is lovingly, and faithfully, recreated. Iconic props like the dangerously temperamental till, scales, and life-size cardboard cut -out ‘Kodak girl’ were recovered from resting places as diverse as Clacton, Reading, Manchester and the United States. The owner, Albert E. Arkwright (Gary Simmons), is a middle-aged miser with a stammer and a talent for making cash, predominantly by being frugal. His nephew Granville Arkwright (Jon Hall), is his put-upon errand boy and sometime assistant manager, who blames his work schedule for his lacklustre social life. Across the road lives Gladys Emmanuel (Mary Singh), a nurse pre-occupied by her professional rounds and her elderly mother whom Arkwright longs to marry.
The stage is cleverly divided to offer a street scene, the shop front, the shop interior and the shop living quarters. Tremendous attention has been paid to detail with the stock authentically filled with merchandise, and prices, from the period.
Gary Simmons is the star of the show, capturing the spirit and physicality of Arkwright, whilst putting his own stamp on the character. Jon Hall is the perfect long-suffering side-kick who nevertheless steals the show in a scene where some mopping up becomes “Singing in the Rain”, delightfully choreographed by Jane Aston, and he gets a bit extra from the milkwoman! Mary Singh is the consummate female foil to Arkwright’s advances, always one step ahead. An eclectic, eccentric, cast of ragamuffins traipse in and out to entertain, including a suspected shoplifter from Hungary, men with apparently huge dogs, and an odd job man, nicely characterised by Colin Townsend.
The script is strong and full of laughs. It is difficult to believe that it is an original, rather than one penned by Clarke, such is its authenticity. The episodic experience in any shop of customers coming in and out is fertile comic ground, expertly exploited by Simmonds and Aston . Oh, and there is Ginger Cake too. Over 500 people enjoyed this performance, the largest of the tour so far. On this evidence there will be many more entertaining evenings to come.