Coronation Street star Andrew Lancel doesn’t often take to the Liverpool stage, but there’s a special occasion coming up. Lancel is returning to the Unity, where he is a patron, for a night of song and entertainment later in the month. It’s not something he’s ever really done in his home region, and although it’s true he’s an old hand at cabaret and variety it seems hard to imagine him doing something so different – probably because he’s known for such such dramatic roles. He also promises plenty of behind the scenes gossip from his impressive television career, and perhaps it’s because his best known parts have been so serious it’s disarming to find that in the flesh, Lancel is a particularly grounded and down to earth guy.
It’s his TV success that has made Lancel such a familiar face and a prime candidate to serve as a patron of the Unity, despite the fact he has never performed there before – or in any Liverpool theatre, for that matter. His achievements are all the sweeter knowing, to paraphrase another crooner, he did it his way.
Self-taught in theatre and singing, Lancel still has a loyalty to the amateur dramatic scene in his home town of Southport that started him off, despite his mainstream success. He remembers juggling gigging the pub and club scene with working as a farmhand in the village where he grew up, and “I was happy with that set up,” he says convincingly. It is well-documented he met his wife Louise while directing a show for am dram group SONG. With a friend he set up The Message theatre company and cut his teeth touring in some rather unglamorous spaces, like hospitals, police stations and old people’s homes. “The best thing is to just get out there and do it, get to a theatre and do it. We had no funding — it was a baptism of fire.” he says.
But when the TV work started to come in, Lancel ended up with a rich CV full of interesting roles, which is what piqued the interest of the Unity to ask for his support. “Like a lot of patrons, I’d think ‘what am I doing here doing this?’ but they’re clever,” he laughs. “I’ve been in a lot of good shows over the years and didn’t really realise it until I started looking at it to promote this – Queer as Folk was life-changing, Cardiac Arrest had a huge impact, I was the first gay soldier on British television in Soldier Soldier, and I’d forgotten a lot of that. It’s nice to be involved in things that get people’s backs up. I’m a church-y man, and people say doesn’t it conflict [with your faith]… but does it heck as like.”
The one-man show comes at a time when his public profile is bigger than ever. After a lengthy stint as DI Neil Manson in The Bill, he is now better known as Coronation Street newcomer Frank Foster, and is gearing up for what insiders are calling “the most violent scenes ever seen on the cobbles”. Lancel is disappointed at the plot leaks, but isn’t one for falling into the trap of speaking as if he is the character he plays. By all accounts, Frank is going to get up to some seriously unpleasant stuff.
“As an actor you don’t put all your cards on the table. I’d never say ‘Frank wouldn’t do that’, or whatever — you never know what you’re character’s going to do,” he says. “And that’s what’s great about being in a soap. It’s very liberating because it’s nice to just get on with it. There’s many sides to Frank, some nice, some not so nice. As an actor you’re always asked to justify your character, but I’m not going to justify anything Frank is or has done.”
Indeed, Frank is shaping up to be a classic Corrie baddie, and apparently writers see a long term future for him. For now, the ball is in Lancel’s court regarding how long he would like to stay in the cast. When he talks it’s clear he has his own plans in mind, but realises he could be swayed – there’s many a character on The Street who was only supposed to be there in the short term but stayed indefinitely, after all.
“It’s just a huge brand,” he says. “They called me up and asked if I was interested and I don’t know anyone who would turn it down. I thought ‘this is a one off’. I’d watched Corrie for 25 years, so this has been so exciting. I don’t even read other characters’ parts of the script, because I’m a fan and I still want to watch it. I’ve not had a day’s work I’ve not enjoyed.” A phone full of texts from fellow cast members is testament to that, as throughout the interview his mobile buzzes with messages making plans for a garden party at “Julie Hez’s” that weekend (presumably Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays Hayley).
Long a supporter of Liverpool theatre (he has lived in the city for 11 years), it’s interesting to note that a lot of the productions that inspired Lancel as a young actor were major returns to the stage by established television talent, like John Thaw and Michael Crawford. Perhaps that’s part of what has influenced Lancel’s own passion for musical theatre and popular entertainment. In future, he hopes, he’ll have the opportunity to get stuck into stage work again. For now, these ‘evening with…’ shows serve a dual purpose. “Every actor wants to sing, every singer wants to act — it’s great to be given the opportunity to do both,” he laughs. “I’m a telly actor at the moment and proud to be so, but the second I’m able to I’ll be on stage and I’m looking forward to it.”