Jonathan Harvey, who is probably best know to gay theatre goers as the man responsible for the play Beautiful Thing, which was also made into a successful film, takes the writing reins for a new comedy play called Corrie! He’s written over 100 episodes of Coronation Street so, when asked by the show’s producers if he fancied the idea of writing something for the 50th Anniversary of the show, he jumped at the chance.
When it was first produced at the Lowry – Corrie! was a huge success with audiences and critics alike and Coronation Street’s creator Tony Warren described the play as “an insider’s affectionate romp through 50 dramatic years.”
How did you feel when you were first asked to write for Coronation Street?
I felt very excited. I’d been asked twice before but I’d always had something else on, a play or some TV like Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, so when they asked a third time I thought, they might not ask me again, so I agreed. When I started they were just doing the story about Todd coming out, so to join the show at a time that I personally found very exciting was great.
Did they want a more ‘gay’ angle on that storyline?
No, no, it was already up and running and I just fortuitously arrived just as it was happening so, my first line was: “Sarah… I’m gay.” So, no I wasn’t brought in for a gay angle… and besides… there are enough bloody gays on the team they don’t need me. (Laughs) It’s the campest show in the world.
You’re obviously a fan of the show so who are or were your favourite characters?
My most favourite would be Blanche Hunt… Deidre’s mum… I always enjoyed writing for her.
When did you come up with the idea for a Corrie stage show?
I didn’t come up with the idea… it was invented by ITV and Phil McIntyre the producer as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations. They asked all the writers on the programme if anyone was interested in doing it… I said I was and ended up getting the gig. So I can’t lay claim to having engineered the whole thing.
Isn’t there just too much storyline over the 50 years to condense to just two hours?
There certainly is. I asked to see a list of the top 5 storylines from each year of the 50 years and reading that I saw the same names kept cropping up – which were Ken Barlow, Deidre and Gail Platt, so I thought they should be my main characters. I thought if I tell their stories and then pepper it with minor character who were major on the show, like Hilda Ogden, who was fantastic but never had a page-turning storyline, it was a matter of including their comedic scenes into the drama.
Now the stage show has a very small cast…
Yes… there are five or six actors and there’s about 80 parts… they are not from the TV programme but we will be having several different Coronation Street ‘familiar faces’ throughout the tour playing the Narrator.
You have a great reputation for writing one of the most ‘gay’ plays ever – ‘Beautiful Thing’, how do you feel now that it has become something of a classic and is performed all over the world?
I feel really proud. It’s like having a child who’s done well. I never thought in a million years, as I sat on my bed and wrote it, that it would still be performed all over the place 18 years later. It’s an absolute joy that it has done so well.
What was the reaction when it first came out?
Well, to begin the response was very, very lukewarm and the reviews were very mixed but just good enough for us to get a tour. Then the reviews were about 70% good and 30% crap but once we came into London, things changed and they were universally good. Some reviews have said it was a rose-tinted view of the world but, yer, I’ve had some letters from young gay people over the years… and still do via facebook… telling me how it has helped them come out… so that’s nice.
Boom Bang-a-Bang wasn’t perhaps the stage hit it should have been (although we loved it) are you still a fan of Eurovision or are you now more of an X-Factor type of guy?
I like the X-Factor but I’m still a massive Eurovision fan. For my 40th birthday my friends and family clubbed together to send me to Moscow… so I went and saw the Eurovision Song Contest… so yes… I’m still a fan.
Was it as good live as you hoped it would be?
It was brilliant… one of the best nights of my life… amazing… I cried when it started.
Other than Corrie! What else new can we expect from you?
I’ve written another play called Canary, which is about history of gay people in Britain in the last 50 years, and the BBC have taken that up and might be making it into a drama series. Also, I’ve just got a book deal with a publisher for my first novel so, I’m keeping myself out of trouble but nothing, other than my Coronation Street writing, is definite.
Corrie! launches in Cambridge on the 10th Feb but then goes on a nationwide tour;
For further info: www.corrietheplay.com
Photos: Helen Warner/Rob Martin