Corrie! began and ended with the character of Blanche Hunt arriving at the Pearly Gates. Although most of the action reflected the show’s best-known storylines of the last 50 years, it was bookended with fantasy sequences that were in turns sweet, heartfelt, and slightly mawkish.
In the end, Elsie Tanner came face to face with Becky McDonald – a nice touch that hopefully spelt out the latter’s long-term future as a Corrie legend, and reinforced an earlier point about how “it’s the women that rule The Street”. Inbetween, there were a lot of laughs as just six actors took on 50 of the programme’s most recognisable characters, from Ena Sharples to Peter Barlow.
There were three characters that took what could have been a fair-to-middling tribute show to another level. Ken (Simon Chadwick), Deirdre (Jo Mousely) and Gail (Leanne Best). With their vocal impersonations only slightly OTT, their portrayals were uncanny. But it was the little things that made it – Gail’s habit of putting her hand on her back when prostrate with emotion, Ken’s fiddling with his hair, Deirdre’s awful collection of belts – it’s small details here, picked up on over decades, that really show the care taken with this production. The dialogue was taken in part from actual episodes, with some comic intervention – so you’ve got your “no Eee-clairs” from Ena Sharples, your “voulez-vous coucher avec moi, c’est soir” from Raquel, and so on.
Also worthy of note were Annie Walker (Lucy Thackeray) Rita (Leanne Best again – her cabaret turn was quite super), and a subtle Hayley and Roy (Lucy Thackeray and Peter Temple), immediately identifiable merely from the cheap red parka and hunched, uncomfortable posture. As Steve McDonald, Daniel Crowder only had to rock on his heels and puff out his cheeks, and the whole auditorium knew exactly who he was supposed to be, and laughed themselves silly with recognition. Those were the moments that really hit the spot.
Ken Morley added a high camp factor to proceedings as narrator, in a spangly jacket and big red book that obviously weren’t a million miles away from a previous role of his, performing similar duties for the Rocky Horror Show. And like that show, it’s all a matter of preaching to the converted. There is simply no point taking anyone who is not already a Corrie aficionado, as the action is probably too fast paced. Saying that though, this reviewer has never known any other way of life, and that’s the point it rams home. Nick Tilsley actor Ben Price was in the Empire audience last night, and it was fun to go back to a point in time when his character was just a twinkle in his parents’ eyes. Corrie fans really invest in the show, always have.
The introduction of the Connors, from Michelle arriving on The Street to the death of Tony Gordon, was covered in a three minute ballet spoof. The scene to accommodate the Christmas tram crash – a new addition for this production – was very well done in a silent movie style.
Without it, the play would have ended with the death of Blanche, which spoke volumes about the characters that were most important to writer Harvey. It is a warm and loving piece. Some scenes seemed a bit shoehorned in, the narrator possibly needed a little more bedding in to be really comfortable, and occasionally the frantic pace was just a bit too silly. But Coronation Street fans will find plenty to enjoy – and reminisce – in this fun, funny show.
Corrie! is on at the Empire until Saturday, February 26. www.corrietheplay.com.