fri 26/05/2017

Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, Manchester Arena | reviews, news & interviews

Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, Manchester Arena

Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, Manchester Arena

Live stage version of the hit sitcom is great fun

Peter Kay stars as the curmudgeonly club owner Brian Potter

Due to unfortunate circumstances I am unable to give a star rating to this show; 15 minutes into the second half a cast member collapsed on stage and the performance was cancelled. At the time of posting Ted Robbins (extreme right in the picture below) was recovering in hospital, in a stable condition, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

I can of course write about what I did see, and much of it was great fun. Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights is a special live version of the sitcom set in a working men's club (the Phoenix) "just off Junction 7 on the M61" in Bolton (from where Kay hails). It's in aid of Comic Relief, to which all profits go, and  Kay has reunited all the original cast (pictured below)  from the two series that ran on Channel 4 in 2001-2002, with the exception of Daniel Kitson, who played a barman.

The conceit of the live show is that the club is putting on a fund-raising "five-star cabaret" in aid of Africa, and if they raise enough money they can introduce it to the continent, because that's what it so desperately needs. Like everything else in this show, it needs to be viewed with deep irony as everything is spoofed – charity, comedy, the entertainment industry and even audiences who turn up for a good cause.

The joke about the "five-star cabaret", of course, is that it is – to use curmudgeonly club owner Brian Potter's (Peter Kay) favourite word – "shite"; and the problem is that if you apply too much verisimilitude, then the humour may be lost among the deliberate incompetence and unfunniness.

For the most part, though, the joke performances just about hold together in the first half, although they were much helped by a warm and enthusiastic audience delighted to see old favourites. These included the always bored club band Les Alanos (the excellent Toby Foster and Steve Edge), Holy Mary (Janice Connolly) doing a cheap and cheerful bingo session, cheesy crooner Kenny Senior (Archie Kelly), donning a red floor mop – "This is not the real Mick Hucknall" – and the woefully unfunny stand-up Young Kenny (Justin Moorhouse).

What we were able to see of the second half was much stronger, and by then a narrative thread had emerged. Thank goodness, as a straightforward array of shite club acts – even pretend shite – was not going to sustain a three-hour show.

First up was DJ Ray Von (Neil Fitzmaurice) in flammable 1980s sports gear and a hideous mullet, doing a cracking disco mix to which the entire audience sang along and which included Tony Christie’s  "Is This the Way to Amarillo", mimed to great effect by Kay for a previous Comic Relief, one of many nods to the charity in the show. Kenny Senior came back, dressed as Britney Spears, lip-synching through a song-and-dance version of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" with six dancers similarly clad, recreating a scene from the first series when the club had a talent contest and discovered Kenny Senior’s strange obsession – or one of them, at least.

We didn't get to see the wonderful Dave Spikey (along with Kay and Fitzmaurice the show's co-writer) as club compere Jerry St Clair, Paddy McGuinness as doorman Paddy, or Kay interact much with the rest of the cast. That's a shame, as the show was warming up nicely when Ted Robbins (as Potter's nemesis, rival club owner Den Perry) became ill. Again, we wish him well and, in the best showbiz tradition, the show will go on.

  • Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights is at Manchester Arena until 16 February
The conceit is that the club is putting on a fund-raising five-star cabaret in aid of Africa

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