Jonathan Harvey
ITV and Phil McIntyre Entertainments
The Lowry, Salford

Publicity photo

As part of its fiftieth anniversary celebrations, Manchester's most famous cultural export has transferred to the stage courtesy of regular Coronation Street writer—who also happens to be an acclaimed playwright—Jonathan Harvey.

The show takes the audience on a journey through some of the highlights of fifty years of storylines and well-loved (and a few hated) characters, steered along by narrator Charles Lawson, formerly the Street's Jim McDonald. The audience enters to see a gauze painted with an image of the street with the Kabin on the corner and a large 'Pearly Gates' at the end with the Newton and Ridley (the programme's fictional brewery) crest across it. Lawson, as St Peter, has a debate with Blanche over whether she is to be allowed into heaven.

The clips begin with the early years but jump about in time quite a bit to tease out individual storylines that were once woven together with many others. We get to relive Hilda Ogden unveiling her beloved 'muriel' for the first time, the Ken, Deirdre and Mike triangle, the spectacular endings to Gail's record number of marriages, Tracey's unseen adolescence as she spent a decade 'listening to her tapes' to grow into the spawn of the Devil, Hayley's big revelation to Roy, Karen's exciting marriage to Steve and a great deal more.

If little of that last paragraph made sense to you, neither will this show. This is not a standalone play but a celebration of a British television institution for people who have grown up with these stories and characters. Writer Harvey has taken some well-known scenes but he has not just reproduced them verbatim; there are witty little additions and asides that play with the fact that the audience knows the actual outcome of the scene but the characters do not, the most significant of which is Gail's proclamation whenever she enters into another doomed relationship that she "has a really good feeling about this one". The characters often narrate their own stories in a way that sends up the absurdity of their eventful lives.

The weakest part of the evening is the role of the narrator; whilst it feels that something is needed to hang the rest of the show on, both the script and Lawson's performance seem really underworked as he prances about the stage reading his lines from a big red book (bringing to mind Eamonn Andrews hosting This Is Your Life).

The strongest part by far is the performances of the other five members of the cast—Leanne Best, Katherine Dow Blyton, Josie Walker, Simon Chadwick and Matthew Wait—who, between them, create almost faultless impressions of more than fifty characters, many of which are greeted with a laugh of recognition from the audience before even opening their mouths. A few audience members remarked on how few people came on to bow at the end as the quality of the characterisations and the very quick changes made it seem as though there were a lot more performers in the show.

There are some beautiful touches in this slick production from director and designer Fiona Buffini (sister of playwright Moira) and Liz Ashcroft, from the black and white food in the shop in the opening scene from the very first episode to the beautifully executed death of Alan Bradley under a Blackpool tram.

This is certainly a must-see for any long-term Coronation Fans, but even for those of us who aren't fans but have grown up with it always there in the background it is still extremely entertaining and at times hilariously funny. Not everyone will have the benefit of seeing many of the cast of the TV show sat in the audience alternating between laughing and cringing as on press night, but then not everyone will be penned in the car park until gone midnight while the football crowds are cleared either.

To 28th August

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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