Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Corrie! - Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Writer: Jonathan Harvey
Director: Fiona Buffini 
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer 

Corrie! is a new comedy play written to mark half a century of Britain’s longest-running soap and is an affectionate look back at the show's five decades. It is cited in the programme as “an attempt to honour and replicate in some small way onstage” the history of Weatherfield and its colourful and well loved characters.

With fifty years of choice moments to select from, writer Jonathan Harvey has cherry-picked many of the key scenes and woven them together in a play that is nostalgic and lots of fun and yet at times unexpectedly touching. The Narrator, played in this production by Gaynor Faye, pops up at various times and in various parts of the set to provide necessary continuity between the scenes. It is she, who, in the prologue and epilogue, acts as a kind of Saint Peter faced with the decision of whether or not to admit Blanche through the Pearly Gates. Some sections are represented through comic dance or movement sequences – with elements of ballet, flappers and silent movies. We are treated to the highlights of Corrie across the decades from the first ever episode to present day.

Liz Ascroft's incredibly functional, multi-level set shows both the famous Manchester's street's cobbles and chimneys and provides alleyways, rooftops, doorways and flights of stairs for the characters to explore. It even serves as a viewpoint from heaven where past departed street residents look down and comment on the present. Other props and set additions are wheeled on as needed, such as the Rovers Return bar and a bed under the stairs. Inventive ways of showing the tram that mows down villain Alan Bradley and the canal boat that houses Ken Barlow's romantic fling are particularly enjoyable. Costume ranges from the sixties to present day, from Elsie Tanner's five-inch high-heels to Becky's pink tracksuit. Ian Scott's lighting serves the show well, delivering the right ambience for each scene, whilst Gareth Owen's sound effects depict the mutterings of the locals in The Rovers Return to the massive gas explosion.

The play uses multirole, in other words, actors playing several parts and switching very quickly between them, to convey a much larger cast than the six principal players. The hardworking cast get the chance to both celebrate and send up the show in a play that feels very much like a good-humoured, end-of-term skit. No opportunity is missed to deliver entertainment, whether it be the Duckworth's family rows, Hilda Ogden's “murial” or the car-in-the-canal scene complete with comic inflated cheeks and still-working windscreen wipers.

There are so many stand out performances it is hard to know where to start. Simon Chadwick's Ken Barlow is a gem, amusingly capturing the long serving actor's mannerisms and speech patterns. Leanne Best's Gail is similarly entertaining, not least the running gag of her endless optimism despite a very unfortunate string of husbands. Lucy Thackeray plays through an astonishing age range with total credibility from the sneering Annie Walker to the delightfully dim Raquel. Also worth mentioning is Peter Temple's Roy. For me, Jo Mousley takes the honours. Her recreation of Ena Sharples and Deirdre are perfect and her skill as a performer evident in the moving and faithful depiction of Hilda Ogden opening up the parcel of deceased husband Stan's belongings and crying, griefstricken, as she clutches his glasses case. You could hear a pin drop followed by thunderous appreciative applause as the scene ended.

The whole thing is engineered like a Swiss watch, with incredible timing from all concerned. As a social documentary, exploring the morals and respectability of a typical northern community, it depicts a changing Britain. Five decades on from its first transmission, some of the characters' irresponsible actions would not be out of place on Jeremy Kyle. This show is as addictive as the original. Catch the chance to relive all those magic moments you enjoyed on the box but thought were gone for ever.

Runs until 12 March.
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