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INTERVIEW: Coronation Street writer Jonathan Harvey on new play Corrie!
Five decades, 80 characters and just six actors? Matthew Jenkin talks to Coronation Street writer Jonathan Harvey about his affectionate tribute to Britain's longest-running soap - comic play Corrie!
CELEBRATING 50 years of Britain's longest-running soap, Corrie! squeezes five decades of Coronation Street drama into a mere two hours.
It's a daunting task for any writer, but Jonathan Harvey has somehow managed to pull off the seemingly impossible and fans and critics alike have been showering the new stage show, heading to The Churchill Theatre in Bromley next month, with praises.
Corrie! Condenses 50 years of Coronation Street into just a couple of hours. Was it tough deciding which events from the soap should feature?
Jonathan Harvey: Yes it was very tough. It was an embarrassment of riches really because there was so much to choose from.
I just had to be really ruthless and go with my own personal tastes and work out what were the most important stories to tell. It was a bit of a mammoth task.
What can people expect from the show?
JH: The play opens and closes in heaven and Blanche Hunt is arriving at the pearly gates.
St Peter is not sure whether to let her in or not so they have to tell a bit about her life and where she’s from. So she kick starts the story of Coronation Street.
When I did my research I looked at the top five story lines for each of the 50 years and I saw that there were three characters who were regularly in those storylines.
They were Ken and Deirdre Barlow and Gail Platt. So I tried to shape the play around their journeys over the past years.
Once I had done that, I then tried to lighten the load with the more comedic characters like Hilda Ogden and Raquel. Although it’s Ken, Deirdre and Gail’s show, you do get a taste of the other storylines too.
The show is essentially played for laughs. What was the idea behind that? Did you think it would work better as a comedy?
JH: You obviously can’t do 50 years in two hours so you have to do a loving homage to it really.
In order to get away with condensing some of the bigger storylines you have to be slightly tongue in cheek.
It’s not always played for laughs and the reason why the audience did find it so funny is because they identify and recognise so much of it and find it entertaining that six actors are recreating 80 characters.
Part of the comedy is in being in on the joke and understanding that the play gently pokes fun at the show.
But the actors themselves have to play each scene deadly serious in order to get a flavour of what those storylines were like.
You have been a Coronation Street writer for seven years now. Was it quite a daunting prospect to write for such a long-running and iconic show?
JH: I was slightly daunted by it, but a lot of writers are rather arrogant about their own capabilities (laughs), so it was more exciting than anything.
It’s like starting any new job and stepping into the unknown.
I suppose what was daunting was the fact that it was such a big machine. There are so many people involved in getting the programme onto the screen.
It was even more daunting to know so many people watch it. If it’s good, great. But if you mess up and you do a bad episode then nine million people are going to see it.
Do you feel the pressure to really push the boundaries in terms of new storylines?
JH: You just try and come up with good stories and keep coming up with something new for these characters who have been around for a long time and finding ways to invigorate them a bit more.
Do you have a favourite character and why?
JH: I really like writing for Mary at the moment and I used to love writing for Blanche. I suppose the more eccentric the better.
What’s been your favourite storyline which you worked on and why?
JH: I think it was really exciting working on the 50th anniversary celebrations last year and planning the tram crash and the repercussions of that, as well as climaxing all the stories at the same time. That was really good fun.
What do you think is the soap’s enduring appeal?
JH: It’s very warm and I think you can be guaranteed of a bit of a laugh. I think it consistently has good writing, performances and good storytelling which makes people want to come back for more.
What do the original TV cast think of their stage incarnations?
JH: They have been really positive and supportive. They were all there on press night and did little interviews which are on the show’s website. Amazingly, they were really flattered.
So any hints as to the show’s upcoming storylines?
JH: I could tell you but then I would have to kill you!
Corrie! The Churchill Theatre, High Street, Bromley. February 28 to March 5. Call 0844 871 7620 or visit ambassadortickets.com/bromley