Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Corrie! - Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Writer:  Jonathan Harvey
Director : Fiona Buffini

Reviewer: Johnny Fox

We’re like that, in Lancashire.  We build you up and then we knock you down … just so’s you don’t forget where you come from and get a bit above yerself down in that there Lundun.  The script of Corrie! Is by much-garlanded author Jonathan Harvey, not only a long-time stalwart of the show’s writing team, but also originator of ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’, ‘Beautiful Thing’ and the Pet Shop Boys musical ‘Closer To Heaven’ and on his way to becoming something of a national treasure.

In the Bromley local paper, the headline is ‘Former Thamesmead Teacher writes ultimate Corrie experience’.  It couldn’t have been a better putdown if it had been a headline in ‘t Weatherfield Gazette.

The structure condenses two thousand Coronation Street plotlines into a couple of hours (and a bit) and the technique follows the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s breakneck trolley dash through 31 of the bard’s works: niceties of nuance or characterization are ditched in favour of trademark wigs and glasses, and hit or miss vocal impressions.   With only six actors, even though none is late for an entrance or a cue, it’s all a bit breathless.

Most of the stories are dismissed in an instant, but two Corrie anti-heroines get closer examination: Gail Potter Tilsley Platt Hillman McIntyre, in a weak showing by Leanne Best, and better when Jo Mousley has enough stage time to develop Deirdre Hunt Langton Barlow Rachid Barlow’s popping neck-veins and fag-raddled throatiness whilst chronicling Dierdre’s grande affaire with Mike Baldwin, wrongful imprisonment, spawning of devil child Tracey, acquisition of toy boy Samir, and constant grinding disappointment in Ken.

Ken as played by Simon Chadwick is the most convincingly heroic performance, as vocally and physically he manages to pin down both the Barlow character and Bill Roache’s slightly diffident acting of it, Chadwick is equally strong as Jack Duckworth and Richard Hillman.

Mousley’s also authentic as Hilda, particularly in the ‘Muriel’ scene and when she challenges Annie Walker for shortchanging her wage packet, but disappointing as Ena Sharples.  Lucy Thackeray’s Elsie is visually spot on with the cinched waist, the five-inch-heel tittup and the only decent wig in the show, but her Annie Walker and Raquel are less crisply defined.  Besides, anyone can ‘do’ Raquel’s French lesson – I’m sure I’ve been caught in the kitchen at parties offering ‘voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir’ in a Salford accent.

Chadwick and Best are the only survivors from the original run at the Lowry last August. The show could do with adding a couple of more mature actresses to the cast to make Ena, Annie, Vera and Audrey less cartoonish: most of the older women are played by youngish men, a device that works well enough for Peter Temple’s alarmingly Alan Bennett-like Blanche meeting St Peter at the Pearly Gates but grates when Bet Lynch is portrayed as an ugly bloke in drag, and reminds you how much more accurately impressionists like Dustin Gee and Les Dennis delivered Vera and Mavis, or Victoria Wood, Lill Roughley and Julie Walters copied the trio in the snug.

The multi-layered set by Liz Ascroft is very fine, and quite elaborate for one which will undergo a six-month tour, as are the lighting and special effects particularly the slow-motion it’s-curtains-for-Alan-Bradley on Blackpool seafront and the recent ‘Corriepocalypse’ explosion of the tram coming off the viaduct.

In Moira Buffini’s deliberately staccato direction, it’s all played as a series of  disconnected vignettes and the evening feels long.  But there’s a moment towards then end when the ghost of Elsie finds common ground with present-day Becky where the seed of a more durable idea seems to germinate.  Pity there wasn’t more of that.

Obviously some favourites are going to be missed: there’s no Alma testing the underwater road handling of Don Brennan’s taxi, no scenes in the raincoat (later knicker) factory, no Sean or Norris, no return to the Gamma Garments of Miss Nugent and Mr Swindley, no Phyllis Pearce, Alf Roberts, ‘Sunny Jim’ or Eddie Yates.

Most unforgiveably, there’s no Mavis.  What do you say to that?

Well, I don’t really KNOW, Rita … 

Runs until Sat 5th March
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