Beverley goes from Street to stage with 'a juggernaut' of a role to play
Beverley Callard is instantly recognisable as Liz McDonald, one time landlady of the Rovers Return in Coronation Street.
It was a role she played for 21 years. Now she's swapped life in Weatherfield for a life on the road, starring in a revival of Jim Cartwright's award-winning play The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice.
The 1992 play was directed at the National Theatre by Sam Mendes and starred Jane Horrocks and Alison Steadman. There was a revival two years ago, but this is the first time it has toured.
It's the story of a shy Little Voice and her larger-than-life widowed mother Mari, played here by Beverley. Little Voice misses her dad and takes comfort from his record collection – belting out numbers in the style of Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey and Dusty Springfield.
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Mari's new boyfriend, agent Ray Say, thinks Little Voice could be the ticket to success and riches...
Beverley says that when she discovered playwright Jim Cartwright was directing this tour, she agree to do it "wherever and whenever".
She says Mari is an amazing role for an actress.
"I love playing her. she's just so complex; there are so many layers. There's so much complexity about Mari. First and foremost, she's a grieving widow and she's a mum who desperately loves her daughter.
"She's an alcoholic and lonely, but you do feel sympathy for her – there are so many highs and lows in the play.
"The writing is so, so wonderful. It's a gift for any actor to play. Jim described Mari as a juggernaut that drives the play and it is completely exhausting.
"At first you're laughing at her, then you're beginning to laugh with her and cry with her as well. You do feel incredibly sorry for her.
"That's the point at which you know you've got the audience on your side."
You could be forgiven – looking at the role Beverley inhabited for so many years on Corrie – of thinking that this tough, northern woman was a part that she could identify with. But she says that her upbringing was very different.
"My parents were completely teetotal, and I had a very loving family," says Beverley, 55, who was born in Leeds.
"So this world is completely alien to me"
While life for Mari and Little Voice is a rollercoaster, things couldn't be nicer on tour. Beverley says a real family atmosphere has developed with the company, which includes Ray Quinn as Billy, comedian Duggie Brown as Mr Boo, Philip Andrews as Ray Say, Sally Plumb as Sadie and newcomer Jess Robinson as Little Voice.
"We just get on so well," says Beverley. "I think we'll be friends for the rest of our lives. And we have the most amazing crew."
The challenge of live theatre has proved exhilarating for Beverley, who has also appeared on TV in Emmerdale Farm, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and as a panellist on Loose Women.
"Much as I love TV and the intimacy of the camera, there is nothing like being in front of a live audience.
"People say touring must be exhausting, but it's nowhere near as exhausting as Coronation Street.
"At our first performances we got a standing ovation every single time. The theatre management said they hadn't seen that for 40 years.
"This is such a unique piece of theatre. It's not a musical and it's not just a straight play either.
"The audience are part of the action – it feels like a working men's club, and then the action is transformed to something more intimate."
Thanks to her long stint on Coronation Street, Beverley is instantly recognised wherever she goes.
Does she look back on her time in Corrie with great affection?
"Oh, I do," she says. "I loved being in The Street. It was amazing. It did Loose Women and the experience wasn't as good. I don't really enjoy appearing as 'Beverley'. I like to have a role that I can bring to life.
"I made the most amazing friends on Coronation Street. I adored it. I didn't leave because I was unhappy.
"But it's great to be on stage with such a wonderful role, in such an exciting play."
The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice is at the Princess Theatre, Torquay from February 25 to March 2.