Its time to walk down the most famous cobbles in the UK as Coronation Street returns to the Fringe. This time, we’re in Generation Game, flares and disco era as we travel to 1977. Annie Walker is all set to show off her brand new monogrammed carpet, specially acquired by Eddie Yeats. She’s even holding a party at the Rovers. But is everything as it seems? Has Eddie gone too far this time?
One of Coronation Street’s great strengths is turning the thoroughly ordinary into something extraordinary, these episodes certainly prove that. Nothing seems to embody the spirit and community of Manchester more so than Coronation Street itself, indeed as Producer Gareth Kavanagh commented launching LassFest and last night’s preview, this is “our text and our people”.
An impressively busy opening quickly establishes the Street circa 1977 as the characters mingle on a busy morning. The type of scene that Corrie has always done more naturally than other soaps, is it perfect to ease you back into Weatherfield.
The recurring theme is how funny the script is. This production is not at all a send up, but rather a reflection of how rich the scripts used to be. There’s a gag or a catty remark around every corner and a gentle reminder of a time when television drama was character and not plot driven. Much of this warm humour comes out of the characters and their relationships. Indeed, nothing much happens in the episode compared to Corrie now, yet everything happens, and happens naturally. You feel the genuine sense of a community, something that can feel forced in modern day soaps.
With a cast assembled by casting legend June West, you’d expect nothing less than an accomplished cast. As is the nature of an ensemble piece, some get more to do than others, but every single member of the cast is giving their all and very clearly relishing this unique opportunity.
Of course, central to these episodes is Annie Walker. Unbearably, yet hilariously snooty, Christine Barton-Brown completely nails the role and is a complete delight to watch. Ian Curley’s comedic background comes into force as the Rovers team leave his Eddie Yeats squirming at their machinations.
Of the Rovers’ trio, Kimberley Hart-Simpson makes an impressive splash as brassy-mouthed Bet Lynch. Put together with Fred Gee (Mike Woodhead) and Hilda Ogden (Joan Kempson) this terrible trio plot the downfall of Mrs. Walker with aplomb. Indeed, Kempson’s trilling as she goes about her work is eerily reminiscent of Jean Alexander. John Draycott also returns as Stan Ogden, and spends much of the episode being chased around by an irate Hilda in true Corrie style! Kempson and Draycott prove quickly exactly why they were so popular last year with ease.
Denice Hope’s Betty is uncannily like the shadow of the dearly departed Betty Driver. With her little mannerisms and tics, she manages to convey the character through action alone before she’s even uttered a line! Matt Lanigan’s Alf Roberts cheekily flirts with wife-to-be Renee Bradshaw (Kathryn Worthington, resplendent in some wonderfully retro glasses). In their brief scenes, Lanigan and Worthington have wonderful chemistry together.
Jeni Howarth Williams’ Elsie Tanner has grown older, if not necessarily wiser. Usurped by the new girls on the street she is displaced. Whilst Howarth Williams still maintains the grace and poise of Elsie, she is a noticeably more fragile character than before in an astonishing performance. An innocuous enough exchange becomes a stand out scene as Elsie and Amy Searles’ assured Rita Fairclough lock horns with neither actress giving an inch to the other. Steely doesn’t come close to describing this powerful battle.
A triumphant and worthy return for the Coronation Street Live cast, Corrie 1977 is a perfect successor to Corrie 1968, and essential for anyone who enjoyed last years performances. For those yet to experience the wonder of live Corrie, now is the time. Slick and confidently directed by Colin Connor and David MacCreedy this is an assured start to 2013 from the team at the Lass O’Gowrie. Amazing to think that only 30 years ago, something packed with so much depth and warmth was being transmitted as the norm. Wonderfully classic Corrie.
Coronation Street 1977 is on at the Lass O’Gowrie from 3 – 7 January. Tickets available through WeGotTickets here, the Lass O’Gowrie bar or on the door, if not sold out.
The pictures featured are courtesy of Elspeth Mary Moore. You can have a look at the full set of pictures from last night’s preview here.