Posts Tagged ‘Coronation Street’

I loved everything about this production – a thing of great joy and a triumphant NT debut for director Jamie Lloyd. It’s the equal of the recent London Assurance on the same stage and for a play that’s almost 250 years old, it’s as fresh as they come.

Oliver Goldsmith’s restoration comedy has always seemed less dated and funnier than its contemporaries, but this is unquestionably the best production I’ve seen. Mark Thompson’s design somehow makes the Olivier more intimate. Most of the time, we’re in the Hardcastle’s living room in front of a huge hearth with a welcoming fire. The scene changes are accompanied by delightful jolly choruses and dances and the one from living room to woods and back is a marvel that takes your breath away. The only thing that isn’t in period is modern gestures, but rather than being incongruous they somehow add to the freshness.

City boy Marlow, accompanied by his friend Hastings, is off to the country to meet his intended Kate Hardcastle. Kate’s step-brother Tony Lumpkin convinces them the Hardcastle home is an inn – cue inappropriate behaviour and an outraged Mr Hardcastle. The tongue-tied Marlow has a stumbling meeting with confident Kate where he can’t even look at her, thus enabling Kate to subsequently pose as a barmaid (she stoops to conquer) and see a very different Marlow.

Running in parallel we have the story of Mrs Hardcastle’s niece and her love of Hastings but betrothal to Lumpkin (Mrs Hardcastle’s son by her first marriage, who doesn’t really want marriage), complete with a mix up over a box of jewels. It’s a riot of confusion with city meets country and rich meet poor providing ample opportunity for satire. The humour is broad so the playing is broad, but it manages to stay the right side of OTT. Of course, it all ends happily with both couples united and parents content.

Harry Hadden-Paton is proving equally adept at drama and comedy and here he’s terrific as Marlow. This may be a career high for John Heffernan, equally terrific as Hastings. It’s hard for Katherine Kelly and Cush Jumbo to play against these comic master classes but they do so very well. I assume there is some sort of exchange programme that resulted in Ian McKellern in Coronation Street in exchange for Kelly in this?! Well, she’s been the best thing about Corrie for years (yes, I’m a fan!) and though it was sad to see her go it’s great to see her cutting it in restoration comedy one week later – and there’s something delicious about the former barmaid at the Rovers Return stooping to conquer as a barmaid! Steve Pemberton and Sophie Thompson are great as the Hardcastles, with the latter giving us another of her over-the-top-and-higher-still performances. I was also hugely impressed by David Fynn as Lumpkin.  The ensemble is faultlessly cast and impeccably drilled.

A delightful evening from beginning to end. Miss at your peril.

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Another show, another exclamation mark….and here I am outing myself as a Coronation Street fan. Well, if I wasn’t, there’d be no point in going to see this – it’s one long in-joke (shared by between 15 and 20 million people).

Jonathan Harvey has distilled the essence of the show over 50 years into two hours of scenes involving 54 characters played out by six actors and narrated by a Corrie legend in person – Roy Barraclough. The love lives of Ken, Deirdre and Gail provide running jokes, one complicated story line is played out as a ballet and another as a silent movie and the set provides the rooftops, Rovers Return bar, generic door, generic staircase and Hilda’s muriel and flying ducks!

Each actor plays between six and twelve characters with seven female characters played by men. The number of quick changes is extraordinary. The most successful were Jo Mousley as Ena, Hilda, Deirdre, Karen & Shelley; Peter Temple as Audrey, Bet, Blanche, Jason & Roy and Lucy Thackeray as Annie, Elsie, Hayley, Martha, Raquel & Vera. I appreciate how difficult it must be to cover 50 years, but there were some notable omissions, including Reg & Maureen, Mavis & Derek, Len, Curley, Alf, Betty, Liz, Albert and all the Battersby’s and Webster’s!

In style, it reminded me of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) which has been touring for more than 20 years since it first appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe. There was a tackiness about the production values that was both necessary, given the number of settings and characters, and somehow appropriate. It was quite rightly played for laughs, though a few scenes didn’t quite work. A lot of the time though it was laugh out loud funny and it was clear how well the audience knew the characters.

Clearly one for fans only, but if you are a fan it’s an affectionate and funny homage that’s difficult to resist.

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I remember the promise shown by Jonathan Harvey’s first major play, Beautiful Thing, 17 years ago at the Bush and have always wondered why he never fulfilled it (though he has written a lot of episodes of Coronation Street!). There have been 7 or 8 OK works, but it has taken until now to truly fulfill that promise in the theatre.

SPOILER ALERT – This is the story of a senior policeman who lives a lie until he is outed by his dead son’s friend, now a famous TV personality. Not only has he denied his own sexuality, but also his son’s death from AIDS. Harvey’s real achievement though is to use this story to present us with a surprisingly lucid 50-year gay social history from Mary Whitehouse’s Festival of light to the return of unsafe sex today with Whitehouse, Margaret Thatcher and Norman Fowler as characters!

It takes a while to get into the non-linear structure, but when you do it becomes a compelling ride. The staging is simple but the 8 actors who play all the roles are superbly versatile (Paula Wilcox makes a convincing Thatcher and Philip Voss an appropriately everagesque Mary Whitehouse!).

It reminded me of Angels in America, but less than half the length with as much depth. There’s a roundedness to it which means that when it ends you feel a great sense of satisfaction with both the storytelling and the presentation of the issues.

A real return to form for Harvey and a very rewarding evening of theatre, but why are there empty seats on a Friday night for work of this quality?

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