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Theatre review: Corrie! @ Regent Theatre

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Corrie! for ages but kept missing it on tour, so I was delighted to have this chance to catch it at the Regent. And I’m happy to report that author Jonathan Harvey, award-winning playwright (Beautiful Thing) and real-life Corrie script writer has penned a real hit show here.

Of course it’s aimed at Corrie lovers for sure, but you don’t have to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Street’s fifty year history to enjoy it. So don’t worry if you can’t remember what Minnie Caldwell’s cat was called (Bobby) or how to spot Albert Tatlock Syndrome (you pop your clogs and leave Ken Barlow a set of Victorian chairs) – sorry, only joking, but this is the kind of show that gets you that way, camp, funny, and packed with raw conflicts fought out across the cobbles by folk who’ve had it tough and are doing their very best to make it a lot tougher still.

Harvey makes the most of this by speeding up entire soap life-histories to bring out the sheer absurdity of the melodrama. Starting with the very first episode we trip quickly through almost forgotten eras via Ena Sharples and her cronies until we’re bang up to date. Characters lost to history jostle for space with those still current in what are really a series of short sketches reminding us of some of the soap’s more outrageous episodes, linked together by narrator Gaynor Faye, once the Street’s very own Judy Mallet. (No, I couldn’t remember either.)

An appreciative audience applauded every bit of stage business, especially the spectacular, and very, very silly Blackpool tram smash that saved Rita Fairclough’s life.

So many parts are played by the half-dozen actors in this hectic and inventive show (they were visibly wilting by the end) that they’re almost a blur, but some highlights do stand out. Leanne Best came close to stealing the show as Gail Tilsley (as was) whose catchphrase “I’ve got a really good feeling about this” was played off the endless deaths (mainly by water, for some reason) of her disastrously chosen men. Peter Temple’s Bet Lynch proved what we’ve all long suspected, that this particular barmaid was a man in drag, while his Audrey (Gail’s  Mom) was to the very life – “Oh, lovey!”  Similarly Simon Chadwick’s Ken Barlow was wonderfully observed as he nailed Ken’s two main modes, apathetic and over-emphatic.

But perhaps most beautifully recreated were Jo Mousley’s twin roles of Hilda Ogden, the Rover’s unforgettably shrill cleaner and Deirdre Barlow (“Aw, Ken”) who’s had more flings than the highland games.  My own particular favourite was Lucy Thackeray as that working class glamourpuss, the immortal Elsie Tanner.

Seventeen million viewers and fifty years can’t be wrong. So if you want a night out that’s good, old-fashioned entertainment, get yourself down to the Regent. After all, there’s nothing much on the telly most nights, now is there?

The show runs at the Regent Theatre in Stoke on Trent until Saturday (June 11). For tickets phone the box office on 0844 871 7649.
Phil Preece

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