Tuesday 24 August 2010

Newcastle beats Manchester every time

There was a large contingent from Tyneside in Manchester last Monday night, and not all of us were there to watch the football.

Those of us who went instead to see Corrie!, the stage play celebrating 50 years of Coronation Street, were almost certainly better entertained, at lower cost, and left for home in a much better mood.

The play brilliantly condensed into a couple of very funny hours half a century of complex plot lines, including Ken’s aspirations, Deirdre’s incarceration, Peter’s bigamy, Tracy’s cruel hoax about who had fathered her baby and her subsequent well-planned descent into murder. And that was just the Barlows.

There was also the plain speaking Ena Sharples, the beehived Bet Lynch, Gail with her consistently appalling taste in men, Richard Hillman’s murderous rampage and the death of Alan Bradley beneath the wheels of a Blackpool tram.

True, there weren’t actually any of the stars of the show on stage, apart from a narrator played by Liz McDonald’s jailbird husband, but more than adequate compensation was provided by having about half the cast, past and present, in the audience. Mrs Hann only focused on characters whose names begin with “R”, and came away with our programme autographed by David Neilson and Barbara Knox. Feel free to feature the question of who they play in your next pub quiz.

All this was greatly appreciated by the row of Geordies behind me, and by the audience as a whole, who kept nudging each other excitedly as another familiar face hove into view. It would be fair to say that, on the evidence of the evening’s attendance, the typical Coronation Street fan is female, and in receipt of an old age pension. Though surely this cannot be true of the viewing audience as a whole, or the advertising slots would all be filled by purveyors of stair lifts and incontinence pants rather than retailers of bargain sofas.

Coronation Street only became a passion of mine about five years ago, after a lifetime of treating it and every other soap with patrician contempt, when I reluctantly got into the habit of watching it with a former fiancée. I gradually came to realise that the quality of the writing is surprisingly high and the convoluted plots compelling. I also began to wish that my own life could be filled with as much unlikely incident, and was seriously disappointed when our wedding did not feature an arrest or punch-up, or the surprise arrival of someone claiming to be already married to me or my bride, ideally with a string of children in tow.

Still, as I said to Mrs Hann, better luck next time.

The only criticism I could possibly make would be this. Why do the designers of British arts complexes habitually make them so difficult to reach, leave and navigate while there? The Barbican in London is a well-known nightmare, but The Lowry in Salford runs it a very close second. After the show we found ourselves wandering aimlessly around with a crowd of other people looking for colour coded car parks, which had not offered the slightest hint of their shade on the way in.

Still, we need not have worried because the clever plan of having multiple bottlenecks between The Lowry and the nearest motorway meant that when two theatres, several cinemas and Old Trafford all disgorged their crowds at the same time, complete gridlock resulted. It took us over an hour to cover the first mile of our journey home, including 45 minutes just to exit the car park. The words “never again” were uttered repeatedly, and with feeling.

Once again I was moved to reflect how much I prefer catching my theatre in Grey Street. Do go and see Corrie! if it comes to Newcastle. But Manchester? I’d stick with watching Weatherfield on the telly.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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