Sunday, 16 January 2011

Corrie! The Play: The Jonathan Harvey Interview

After rave reviews and a sell-out run at The Lowry Centre, Corrie! The Play, is embarking on an extensive tour of the UK kicking off at Cambridge Arts Centre on February 11th.

Coronation Street Blog catches up with the man behind the show, acclaimed playwright and well loved Coronation Street scriptwriter Jonathan Harvey.

LV: How were you chosen to write the play? Were you asked specifically?
JH: No. They asked all the writers who were interested. I don't know who else said they were, but I said I was interested and they gave me the job! I've done lots of theatre before so I think they knew it was in safe hands.

LV: You're described as 'acclaimed' which always helps.
JH: I love to be described as acclaimed!

LV: It condenses fifty years of Coronation Street into one play, how difficult was it to choose what to put in?
JH: It was really hard actually. I didn't have very long to do it. I started in February and the show was opening in May so it was just a case of trawling through. Helen Nugent (archivist) gave me lists of the top five story-lines from each year and Ken, Deirdre and Gail were cropping up a lot which I was quite surprised by, I didn't realise just how important they'd been over the time. So I started off going through a description of every single episode those actors had been in and from that tried to tell the story of them over the fifty years. I had a researcher whose job it was to go through the dialogue for all those episodes. It was a mammoth task. I think I must have killed about three hundred rain forests because I had these story-lines printed out. Wherever I went I had to carry round those massive bags you take to the launderette, full of files! I then spread the net a bit wider and looked into who else had been important on the show like Bet Lynch, Hilda Ogden and Raquel, the more comedic characters over the years, and after that tried to form a story that made sense.

LV: It's amazing when you look at the character of Gail and the amount of controversial story-lines she's had. She's like the most cursed woman in the world!
JH: She is. I wouldn't like to be in her lovely shoes.

LV: What are your favourite bits of the play?
JH: I love it all really but, when you make television, the experience of watching it is really quite singular. You're either watching it on your own, or with your partner, or your dog, or your kids so you don't really see what other people think. What was really nice at the Lowry was that there were seventeen hundred people in the room who love Coronation Street. And to see those people enjoying and appreciating it and being one step ahead of the characters all the time was really quite rewarding. We had a group outing of all the writers, story-liners and producers to go and see it and it was really exciting for people to suddenly see something tangible; the results of what you do; like the first time you see Elsie Tanner, to hear people suddenly gasping 'Oh my God, it's Elsie'. Rather than the content of the stuff that's going on the stage, I suppose, its seeing the audience identifying with it and getting something from it.

LV: How difficult was it to find any humour in the tram crash and to actually incorporate it into the play?
JH: It's just a case of how you do it really. For instance, there's not much humour in the story of Tony Gordon but there's humour in the way we tell it, because we tell it in the medium of a ballet, so you're able to power through years of a story in three minutes by presenting the whole thing, tongue in cheek, as a rather bad ballet! With the tram crash we'll be doing something similar; finding a way to tell the story in a comedic way - (laughs) not comedic but slightly tongue in cheek!

LV: Can you tell us about the Ken and Deirdre webisodes?
JH: There's an initiative where they're trying to get more online stuff to accompany the show and with my sit-com background I just thought I'd really like to write Ken and Deirdre in bed - like a half hour sit-com really but in ten three minute sketches - and just see what they'd talk about. It's a bit like The Royle Family really, it's just them in bed talking and there are certain things that crop up each time - mostly about Deirdre worrying about whether Ken has or hasn't put the bins out which drives him mad. It's just trying to find what people talk about when they're in bed really.

LV: What tips would you give to people wanting to get into writing for TV or theatre?
JH: If it's playwriting go and see as much theatre as you can and, if you're skint, phone the theatre and speak to somebody there and explain that you want to be a writer and you want more experience and can they get you cheaper or free tickets. Theatres usually have spare tickets, they just don't like giving them away! If you want to be a telly writer, I'd watch as many different types of telly as possible. As for actually breaking into it, I think it's really really hard. There are open doors at all these different types of shows and lots of them take people who've never really written before but I think the industry's changed since I started out and I think my way in would probably not work these days. Building up a knowledge about the field you want to work in can be no bad start.

LV: Which character do you love writing for most at the moment?
JH: Mary...erm... Mary! (laughs). What I like - and it's not a cop-out though i do love Mary - what I like is every time I get given an episode there's usually a different character group in there I've not written for in a while. That's what I like, just keeping it fresh and writing for lots of different people really.

LV: Can you give us any spoilers?
JH: I could but then I'd have to kill you so I won't!

LV: (gulp)
JH: I don't want to turn into John Stape!

LV: And finally, what's your favourite seat on the bus?
JH: Over the wheel!

LV: Thanks very much.
JH: A pleasure, nice to speak to you.

What a lovely and talented man, I normally hate people like that but he's an exception!

If you want to see Corrie! The Play, details are available here.

Photo courtesy of


Chewy said...

Fantastic writer, whenever I see his name at the start, I know it's gonna be a good 'un!

Flaming Nora said...

LV, you've done the blog proud. Thank you for a wonderful interview.

seapenguin said...

What a good interview, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the interview, thank you! Who the heck _are_ you, "LV"???? Not listed under "Who writes this blog?" link.

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