Kevin Bourke talks to Jonathan Harvey, writer of the new comedy play Corrie,

PUBLISHED: 08:35 05 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:40 20 February 2013

Canary promotional shots  Jonathan Harvey © Helen Warner

Canary promotional shots Jonathan Harvey © Helen Warner

Writer Kevin Bourke talks to Jonathan Harvey, writer of the new comedy play Corrie, which kicks off the 50th anniversary celebrations of Britain's longest-running soap

When Britains longest-running and best loved TV soap Coronation Street celebrates its fiftieth birthday in September, there are bound to be all sorts of on and off-screen high jinks.

But first of the officially-sanctioned events and sounding quite likely to be the most fun is the World Premiere of Corrie! at The Lowry in August. A brand-new comedy play written by award-winning playwright and long-time Coronation Street writer Jonathan Harvey (Canary, Rupert Street Lonely Hearts Club and the award-winning Beautiful Thing, which was also a film), it is, says producer Phil McIntyre, a funny and affectionate tribute to five decades of Coronation Street.

McIntyre and the programmes Executive Producer Kieron Roberts (who recently said that he believes Coronation Street to be the most important programme in the history of British television. Its hugely significant, culturally and economically at all sorts of levels, and particularly for this region.) came up with the idea and approached the current writing team for someone to script it, suggesting that the live show should be something like the Reduced Shakespeare Company, remembers Harvey, who has been on the writing team for six years. I expressed an interest because I thought it could be a bit of a laugh.

Little did he realise that he would be spending several months, even as he continued to write for the TV version, going over fifty years of story lines, murdering who knows how many trees as I travelled around the country reading them all. Luckily, weve got a really good archive department and I insisted on a researcher to help me. Its been bizarre but enjoyable, he insists.

First of all, he says, I tried to make a list of all the really good characters but that was just too massive! Then I went through all the top story lines from each year so I could get a sense of the important characters. From that, I decided you could build it around Ken, Deirdre and Gail Ive got a whole filing cabinet on each one of them and then started to add in all the comic or iconic characters that you just couldnt leave out. Even so, there was lots of stuff I wanted to get in that you simply couldnt fit in a two-hour show.

The play also boasts Ena Sharples, Hilda Ogden, Hayley and Roy, Richard Hillman, Jack Duckworth, Bet Lynch, Steve, Karen and many more, as well as such magic moments as the tram running over Alan Bradley, Tracy killing Charlie, Todd kissing Nick, and Gail marrying Brian, Martin, Richard and Joe! Its all done, remarkably, by just five actors! So casting was interesting!, he chuckles.

Its quite cheeky and irreverent but I love the programme and these people as much as anybody and want other fans to share the affection I have for these characters, he says of a show which allegedly opens with Blanche at the Gates Of Heaven while St. Peter ponders letting her in, worrying that there have been too many battle-axes through those gates lately! Meanwhile, he teases, the whole Tony and Carla story is told through a dance sequence.

Ken, Deirdre and Gail are at the centre of it all, but its peppered with comedy scenes such as Ken giving Raquel French lessons. Then you have scenes like Hilda referring to Stan dying, so Ive warned the cast to be ready for all sorts of reactions.

Dialogue-wise, too, hes been obliged to take some artistic licence. I did try to do it verbatim, but when I looked at the scripts, as opposed to relying on my memory, that obviously wasnt always going to work. The conversation with Gail where Richard Hillman is revealed as a serial killer took place over three episodes, for instance, so you have to precis things like that.

Of course, its an enormously successful TV show: but you cant assume the audience knows everything. I wasnt born when it started, for instance. So you have to make sure it works as a piece of live entertainment.
But also, this should really be a series of little treats for the audience, and thats what Ive tried to provide.

*Corrie! is at The Lowry from Thursday August 12-Saturday August 21.

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