How do the two plays you have had staged this year compare?
Canary was originally commissioned for 2008, Capital of Culture year, but it took a little longer to write than I anticipated. The Corrie play was a bit of a last minute job. They asked all the writers if they were interested in doing this in February, and it went on stage in May.
What did you have to take into consideration to get Coronation Street into theatres?
It was a different challenge because I knew the audience was going to be very familiar with the show and would all have their own expectations, and that was a very peculiar challenge, to try and refine it and decide what stories needed telling. Canary was kind of open-ended, in that it was only going to go on when it was ready. For Corrie!, the theatre had been booked and posters printed practically before I’d written a word.
How did that first run go?
It was well received and the reviews were really nice. Audiences sold out and just loved it – it was a bit like going to see the Rocky Horror Show, people would come dressed as their favourites.
Who proved most popular?
There were a lot of Deirdres, and people were very engrossed in Gail’s various marriages. People would say the lines as well – like Gail’s “you’re Norman Bates with a briefcase”, or Hilda Ogden’s “woman Stanley, woman.”
What made you want to be the writer to take Corrie! on?
I just thought it was too good an opportunity to miss, really. I thought why not have a go, I’ve worked in theatre, I understand stagecraft. It sounded like a bit of a laugh. I’ve been offered various things to do with Corrie over the years but I thought this was really something I could do.
You’ve had a varied career as a playwright, is this tour your biggest stage work to date?
I wouldn’t say Corrie is the most important play I’ve done – it’s not exactly Tom Stoppard, but it’s one of the most popular things I’ve ever written. And to have a play on at the Liverpool Empire is hilarious – and a bit exciting. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved in in theatre. I will rewrite it a little bit for the tour, as there was no mention of the tram crash last year.
THE TRAM CRASH. Of course. What was your experience of the live episode?
The live episode was all systems go. It was exciting, although I didn’t have too much to do with it, I was watching backstage. We also had our new producer Phil Collinson, who wanted to make sure it was gung-ho and it was something people wouldn’t forget.
How was the process different to business as usual?
We had to stop everything for two weeks to practice the live episode, so before that we had to write a lot more to get ahead of ourselves, so it was more stressful. But there was a real sense of euphoria and pride, knowing that we’d done it and people were talking about it. But we have to keep cranking the pace up over Christmas and New Year with more explosions hitting the Street – in the characters’ lives I mean, not trams.
How can Coronation Street keep that momentum up across the Christmas episodes?
Well, I have written the Christmas and New Year episodes, which was fun. I’ve been doing the show for so long, since 2004, and it was something I have always wanted to do. I’d been stamping my feet about every year, so I didn’t feel any pressure, I just wanted to make sure it was a fun episode.
Who will the Christmas episodes concentrate on?
Tracy Barlow is back for Christmas, and so there’s always fireworks because she’s such an explosive character.
You have previously said how much you loved writing for Blanche (played by actress Maggie Jones, who died this year).
Blanche was so great to write for and Maggie Jones was just fantastic. There was one of those anniversary shows, 50 greatest moments in Coronation Street and my episode, where Blanche goes to the AA meeting, came out as number one which was really nice. It’s not exactly about filling her shoes but about keeping other characters exciting – for example, Stephanie Cole is coming in in the new year as Roy Cropper’s mum. But you have to dust yourself off and get on with the job.
Is writing for those comic characters the thing you enjoy the most?
The grass is always greener for me – if I’m writing comedy I want to be writing something serious. Corrie is half an hour of high drama and high comedy, so I can have my cake and eat it.
Canary, too, spanned those emotional highs and lows over 50 years of the gay rights movement. What did that play mean to you?
Canary was very important to me and I wanted to tell those stories and remind people that I have done lots of sitcoms and comedy writing, but I started out as a proper posh playwright and wanted to re-nail my colours to the mast. I was very proud and it was a great production. I suppose my year can be measured in plays spanning 50 years. It’s been a really nice year. I can’t complain.
Corrie! comes to the Liverpool Empire from February 21 to 26 and tickets are on sale now. A former cast member of Coronation Street will soon be revealed as the show’s narrator. Pictured above are Kathryn Dow Blighton as Hilda Ogden and Matthew Waitt as Bet Lynch.