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Review: Corrie!/Liverpool Empire

Mike Chapple enjoys a skilfully cobbled romp down 50 years

Published on February 23rd 2011.

Review: Corrie!/Liverpool Empire

ONCE upon a Mersey time, Liverpool Confidential's culinary critic AA Grill - albeit in a different incarnation - and my good self were keen to expand our skills outside the confines of daily hack work at Castle Greyskull on Old Hall Street.

So we enrolled in a night-school script-writing course at Liverpool University.

The usually motor-mouthed Morley's rounded vowels
were sadly muted and
lost in the Empire's gods. Note to the mixing desk: TURN THE SOUND UP TONIGHT!

It proved to be a disaster. Not because of the standard of our tutor. He was a Liverpudlian veteran with a proud record in the battlefield of getting his work accepted for quality bread-and-butter stuff on Radio 4 and such like.

No, the problem lay with our fellow students.

Numbers gradually dwindled as they became increasingly paranoid about reading their homework out in class; aspiring writers being, perhaps understandably, acutely prickly about ideas being nicked. And so then there were two, just Grilly Boy and me.

Others, more soberly studious, would have welcomed the prospect of increased hands-on attention. Alas, we weren't, and for the remainder of the course we persuaded Teach to abandon the Spartan classroom for the more welcoming comforts of the Roscoe Head or Ye Cracke for weekly sessions of a pint or five.

There we learned very little about scripture apart from one thing - the esteem in which Corornation Street is held in the TV writers' world.

"Never underestimate the might of Corrie," said a solemn but slightly sozzled Teach. "It draws to it the creme de la creme when it comes to writing."

Some years later, Yours Truly was interviewing another Liverpudlian writer, Jonathan Harvey, who was then earning a reputation as one of the sparky young gunslingers on the Coronation Street writing team.

Harvey, by then, had already won a string of awards for his work and plaudits for his off -the-wall comedy series, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.

But while the more sniffy of the critics will always demean Coronation Street "as merely a soap" Harvey agreed with Teach.

"To work for Corrie is a dream come true and would be for any writer," he said proudly.

He relished especially creating the lines for the strong female characters who have underpinned the series.

His favourite was the waspish Blanche Hunt (mother to Deirdre Barlow and fearsome mum-in-law to the hapless Ken) played by the late Maggie Jones.

Under the likes of Harvey, Blanche came up with some classic drop-dead lines of derision. A personal favourite: “Good looks are a curse. You and Kenneth should count yourself lucky."

It doesn't come as much of a surprise then that the character of Blanche opens and closes Harvey's tribute, Corrie!, to celebrate the Granada soap's 50th anniversary, which premiered at The Lowry last year.

To encapuslate such a history of plots in a mere two hours, with a whopping 54 characters and a measly six actors, must have been a daunting prospect. Its nearest equivalent is The Reduced Shakespeare Company's 90-minute precis of the Bard's entire works.

Harvey, though, pulls it off (as Norris might say) with a string of original editing techniques.

Ken, Deirdre and Gail Potter Tyldesley/Platt/Hillman/etc, as The Street's longest running inhabitants, provide the sturdy spine on which this affectionately tongue in cheek production places its weight.

Complex family entanglements and plot scenarios are explained by devices such as cleverly succinct ballet and silent movie sequences.

And it's all held together by Ken Morley as The Narrator.

The last time you may have seen him on TV, Morley had become a goggle-eyed, gurning, pervy parody of his own character, Reg Holdsworth, in a Street special edition Of Celebrity Come Dine with Me. Dominatrix Julie Goodyear and Gordo's own CDWM nemesis, David Lamb, were especially unamused by his bum-pinching, schoolboy antics. It made for great telly, though.

Unfortunately, on this showing, the usually motormouthed Morley's rounded vowels were sadly muted and lost in the Empire's gods. Note to the mixing desk: TURN THE SOUND UP TONIGHT!

But apart from that, and the surprising lack of real belly laughs, the show is a treat for real Corrie fans with a knowing Harvey including some of the other great lines from the series. Gail's hysterical outburst at psycho husband Richard Hillman: "You're just Norman Bates with a briefcase!" takes particular pride of place.

The Street atmosphere is helped along by a brilliantly evocative two-storey set - complete with smoking chimney stack - and not one, but two different deadly trams, courtesy of designer Liz Ashcroft.

Most of all, it's a magnificent tour de force from the actors with so many diverse characters complete with costume changes. They must have been as hot as Stan Ogden's armpits after a day up the ladders.

Stand-out interpretations were Leanne Best's permanently indignant Gail, Simon Chadwick's effete and pretentious Ken, Daniel Crowder's huff-and-puff Steve McDonald and Jo Mousley, as that old gruff Deirdre.

Your's Truly's companion, Lady Penelope, getting Roy "Alec Gilroy" Barraclough's half time autograph rounded off a very satisfactory night.

And that's your lot, chuck, as mournful wa-wa-wa brass sounds waft past and Minnie's moggy slinks off into a Salford sunset.


*Corrie! Runs at the Liverpool Empire until Saturday Feb 26.

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Stanley StreetFebruary 25th 2011.

I saw Corrie at the Empire last night and it was a great show with a brilliant cast but as Mr. Chapple said above, the public address system was FAR too quiet.

Many of the lines were lost in the rustling of sweetbags and chatter of the selfish cretin contingent in the audience.
I was only ten rows back in the stalls too, it must have been far worse at the back and in the circle. When there was a musical accompaniment the cast could hardly be heard in particular the narration of the ballet interlude that explained the convoluted relationships of the post-Baldwin factory owners.

Because of this the applause was muted because the audience didn't want to miss the rib-tickling but barely-audible lines. I think this reticence on the part of the audience was misunderstood by the cast and crew because at the end the company left the stage, the curtain fell and the house lights came on at a rate of knots before the applause had a proper chance to get going - it's rare that I feel that I haven't clapped enough!

The cast was superb. Using little other than mannerisms and wigs the players captured characters instantly, hilariously accurately so even before they spoke in the cases of Martin Platt and Steve Macdonald. It was hard to believe that there were only six of them.

The only criticism is that the Martha Longhurst of my young childhood wore distinctive horn-rimmed glasses that were absent in 'Corrie' and if I'm going to split hairs the roofscape on the painted backdrop featured small, modern 'BBC-2' UHF aerials rather than the big 'H'- and 'X'-shaped ones of the 1960s.

I'd recommend Corrie. It's on until tomorrow night, get down there but be sure to take your ear-trumpet and show no mercy to the sweetbag-cracklers!

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