Soap stage show is right up your Street
The Lowry, Salford
Katherine Dow Blyton as Hilda Ogden and Simon Chadwick as Ken Barlow in the warm-hearted soap tribute
Two of Manchester's greatest cultural icons kicked off a new season this week. United thrashed Newcastle at Old Trafford. And just across the Manchester Ship Canal, the cast of Corrie! scored their own hit with a stage tribute to Britain's best-loved soap.
Jonathan Harvey, a long-serving scriptwriter for Coronation Street, has crafted a comic masterpiece for the ITV soap's 50th anniversary and the world premiere at the Lowry attracted a host of past and present Street celebs.
Harvey had set himself a daunting challenge - squeeze 7,400 episodes of Coronation Street into the pint pot of a two-hour stage show. He does it with a
comic lightness of touch that is the Street's trademark, and with just five actors dashing through countless costume changes to play 55 characters. It is like a Reduced Shakespeare Company on cobbles.
Harvey shines the spotlight on three of the most enduring personalities: Ken Barlow (four wives, 27 girlfriends), Gail McIntyre (three husbands) and Deirdre Barlow (three husbands, one prison sentence, several pairs of large glasses). Other characters get a passing mention; many are jettisoned completely.
Plots that gripped a nation are boiled down to a few lines
Directed by Fiona Buffini, it is quickfire and deliberately disjointed - the chronology is all over the place. For these reasons, plus the great writing and good acting, it works.
The performers - Leanne Best, Katherine Dow Blyton, Josie Walker, Simon Chadwick and Matthew Wait - show remarkable versatility at capturing the looks and mannerisms of almost a dozen characters apiece (including a very masculine Bet Lynch, beloved brassy barmaid of the Rover's Return). Simmering storylines that were played out over months and gripped a nation are boiled down to a few terse lines of dialogue, with impressive comic effect.
Famous love triangles, Peter Barlow's bigamy, Steve McDonald's wedding drama and Deirdre torn between a "dull be-cardiganed husband and a sex-god" become brilliant slapstick.
There are nudges and a winks to moments of drama that have become part of a nation's folklore. "Come on, let's cross this very busy road," says Alan Bradley, as he steps out in front of a tram. Or Ken Barlow's first wife Val telling the audience she is just about to plug in the faulty hairdrier. The one that's about to electrocute her. The audience responds to these moments of tragedy with fits of laughter.
Much of the humour comes from Harvey's
parodying of characters and plotlines, which is done with warmth and affection, and the endorsement of Coronation Street creator Tony Warren.
Hilda Ogden shows off her "muriel" - Ogden-speak for wall-painting - to a disapproving Annie Walker; Jack and Vera wish they were normal; teenage Tracy Barlow listens to her tapes for a decade then emerges from her bedroom and decides she is going to be a bitch; Roy and sex-change Hayley share their first tentative kiss. The whole pick-and-mix pantomime is held together by Charlie Lawson (who played Jim McDonald) as the narrator.
It starts and finishes with the acid-tongued Blanche Hunt in dispute with St Peter at the pearly gates, eventually taking her place in the celestial snug alongside old-timers Ena Sharples, Minnie Caldwell and Martha Longhurst.
"So go on," she asks, after this breathless sprint through 2,000 storylines. "Any gossip?"
(Until August 21. Tel: 0843 208 6000)