Soap on a stage

Corrie!

The New Alexandra Theatre

Birmingham

****

Unless you have lived on the moon for the last 50 years, you will at least at have heard of the great British Institution that is Coronation Street. For many, the lives of Ena, Rita, Ken, Deirdre, Gail, Jack, Vera and many others who have travelled the well-worn cobbles, have almost become a backdrop to their own daily comings and goings.

It was once said that the national grid reaches almost breaking point just before Coronation Street begins as millions of people make a cup of tea in readiness for their half hour in Weatherfield.

It is perhaps, therefore, little wonder that a stage play has been born to further satisfy the cravings of Corrie fans across the land.  Even so, its a bold move. Its one thing being able to get an audience who only have to sit at home on a sofa - quite another to lure them outdoors and into a theatre. 

Certainly, it worked well when the play first opened at Salford's wonderful Lowry Theatre, but then you might expect it to. Whether it has the same appeal away from its home territory remains to be seen. Given it's monumental and enduring popularity though, it should have no problems.

DRAMATIC STORYLINES

The play is whistle stop tour of the last 50 years of Britain's best loved  soap. Key moments, dramatic storylines  and favourite characters are all explored by just six very talented actors who  go from scene to scene and character to character with real skill. Its a heck of lot to pack into two hours and there is no time for Pinteresque  pauses here. It's fast and frenetic  as the years roll by. The writer, Jonathan Harvey, even highlights the need to ‘crack on' when the narrator announces that the ‘next two lines of dialogue will cover 10 years' 

Good old fashioned narration ( delivered by ex Corrie regular Ken Morley) links the scenes   together but Harvey cleverly uses other, less traditional, ways to show the journey - spoof ballet and silent film being two of them.  Characters also frequently come ‘out of character', as it were, to become various police officers, vicars and doctors. ‘Its a theatrical device. Live with it' explains one of the characters, helpfully.

As for the myriad of Corrie characters, the actors do an amazing job in portraying them. What impresses greatly is not simply the accuracy or the impressions but the speed at which they go from one to another.

 All are excellent but special mention must go to Simon Chadwick whose ‘Ken Barlow' is spot on. He gets the slightly smarmy, irritating tone down to a tea and by the end of the play the audience were laughing at just about anything he said  - so accurate was his delivery.  Jo Mousley also shines as Hilda Ogden, complete with dreadful singing and the famous mural (or ‘muriel' as she calls it ) of the three ducks flying over a lake.

I did wonder if you need to have seen Coronation Street to understand this play. The answer, I think, is no - though it certainly helps. Most importantly, it is very well written and beautifully acted. On that basis alone, it deserves to do well. To 26-03-11.

Tom Roberts

 

Further down the street . . .

****

EVEN if you are not a fan of Coronation Street there's so much humour in this stage tribute to the greatest ever 'soap' you will thoroughly enjoy the experience.

And who hasn't heard of Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner, Ken Barlow, Annie Walker, Minnie Caldwell, Hilda and Stan Ogden, Len and Rita Fairclough.

Written by Jonathan Harvey, who penned over 100 episodes of the hit TV show, Corrie is hugely entertaining, helped by a cleverly constructed set which includes a front door and one of the homes in the cobbled street, rooftop access and inevitably a shot of the Rovers Return.

It works beautifully, and they even manage to recreate the 50th anniversary drama in which a runaway tram crashes over the viaduct, to the accompaniment of loud explosions and flashing lights.

Ken Morley does a fine job as Narrator, sometimes at the front of the stage, occasionally amongst the chimney pots, linking together some of the big moments from five decades of a show which still has such a huge following around the country.

But top marks go to the six actors - Leanne Best, Simon Chadwick, Daniel Crowder, Jo Mousley, Peter Temple and Lucy Thackeray - who play 55 characters. They are terrific.

During the performance the audience see the marital problems, affairs, murder, mugging and many other incidents that have gripped armchair viewers over the years that Coronation Street has ruled the ratings. There's even a canal barge chugging between the wings, and a yacht sail is erected on a telegraph pole.

Directed by Fiona Buffini, to 26-03-11.

Paul Marston

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