If you think theatre is in danger of becoming too staid and inward-looking to be reclaimed as a popular medium, Jimmy Fairhurst may be the man to change your mind. Not Too Tame, the company he founded in 2008, aims to bring theatre back to the masses with shows that reflect working class life.

His latest venture, Early Doors, is an immersive production set and performed in various UK pubs. A multi-disciplinary project, it combines music, poetry, comedy, drama, drinks and even a quiz – all things, Fairhurst says, “that you could find in any pub on a Friday or Saturday night.”

The idea came from Fairhurst’s own working class upbringing. Observing that few of his friends shared his interest in theatre, he began developing a show that would speak to them on their own terms.

“I wanted to create work for people who thought that the theatre wasn’t a place where they belonged, so I thought about the kinds of places they’d feel most comfortable.

“In today’s society, you get a lot of middle class artists trying to fit middle class solutions to working class problems. The theatre we produce is for everyone, but we’re focusing on those who don’t feel they’re being represented, or don’t think their voices are being heard.”

Early Doors‘ through-narrative concerns a brother and sister (played by Fairhurst and co-star Katherine Pearce) who have recently inherited a pub from their mother. The events take place on the night it re-opens after her death, when a combination of grief and clashing personalities make for a troubled start to their joint management.

Early Doors 2015 Tour – Theatrical Trailer from Not Too Tame on Vimeo.

Other characters include a bouncer, a love-lorn quiz master, a handful of locals, and what Fairhurst describes as “the pub’s own crackpot”: “He’s a bit of a weirdo, but he’s our weirdo, you know?” he laughed.

Having spent much of his youth in beer gardens and working men’s clubs, Fairhurst is well-versed in pub culture. Amidst jokes that the most difficult thing about site visits is resisting the urge to get a pint in every pub, he insists that it’s not all about the drinking.

“Each pub has its own micro-community, and for a lot of the older people, it’s the only reason they get out and socialise,” he explained. “When people go on stage, they talk about being able to feel the ghosts of these old actors, but it’s exactly the same in a pub. How many stories are in there? These are places where we have wakes, where we have celebrations after christenings, where you go on your first date, where you go with your mates after you’ve had a break-up. All life is celebrated and mourned there, and I think that’s something that, as a nation, we should look after.”

The decline of the British pub is a concern for Fairhurst, and he hopes Early Doors will help people rediscover the fantastic venues on their doorsteps.

“Around 31 UK pubs close every week, which is such a tragedy. Like theatres, they’re a part of Britain’s tradition. They’re community hubs and places of entertainment and socialising. Both are going through hard times, and could help each other out by cross-pollinating their audiences.”

The variety of audiences, cities and pubs Early Doors visits means there are always surprises.

“So many theatre groups talk about how a show is different every night, but with ours, we really don’t know what it’ll be like until the doors open. In Edinburgh, there was one elderly couple who had come up from Preston, I think, and this woman started heckling the quiz master. Afterwards, she came over to buy us a drink and she said, ‘Oh, I just thought we were all in it together, and if he’s making jokes then so can I!’

“In Harrogate, the former Archbishop of York passed by, and our doorman invited him in. His response was, ‘Mm, that is a sinful request that no one could refuse.’ His lines were better than anyone else’s! When these people come along, it’s like having another performer. There’s no us and them, you’re just adding more characters, and often, it’s the audience that gets the biggest laughs.”

Fostering a direct relationship with their audience has been important for Not Too Tame right from the start, since Early Doors‘ Edinburgh show was funded through Indiegogo.

“Where we are now is not just because of my ensemble – it’s because of every single person who retweeted, or put a pound in the pot, or bought us a drink. You have to build a community with your audience because they get you to where you want to go.”

With the right attitude, company and show, Fairhurst sees no reason why theatre couldn’t inspire the same loyalty and fanaticism enjoyed by other artforms like music and films. As he said of his crowdfunding campaign, “If you aim for the stars, you get somewhere near, but if you aim for the gutter, that’s where you’ll end up.”

Early Doors is currently touring UK pubs. For more information, visit Not Too Tame’s website.