FAMOUS on TV, actress Beverley Callard makes her Newcastle stage debut this week.
A SUCCESSFUL actor never really walks alone. So many characters, so many roles. Beverley – Bev – Callard, who plays Mari Hoff in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, is nursing a coffee she has just bought across the road from the Theatre Royal.
This simple transaction is probably still a talking point among those who were thrilled to see Liz McDonald from Coronation Street – in the flesh!
Beverley smiles. Recognition comes with the territory. Twenty two years she was associated with the famous ITV soap opera, joining first as one character – June Dewhurst – in 1984 and then being lured back as Liz in 1989.
It happens “every single day”, she says. But there’s no bitterness, no hunted look.
“People are so nice because everyone loved Liz. There are occasions when I think it would be nice to go incognito, but people want to talk to you. They want to tell you how much it meant to them.”
Everyone in a soap opera leads a charmed life, forever at the mercy of the scriptwriters. But it seems they couldn’t get enough of Bev, or Liz.
“I did 10 years and then I left to do other things,” says Bev, who also played Flo Henshaw in BBC sitcom Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. “I went on stage and filmed comedies for the BBC, and dramas. They kept asking me to go back and eventually they made an offer that I couldn’t turn down and I went back again.
“The year before last I decided to leave again. I love Coronation Street. I’ve always been loyal to it and they wrote brilliantly for me.”
Indeed they did. Her Liz had an eventful life. A victim of domestic violence and kidnapping, she was unfaithful to husband Jim and was run ragged by the kids.
The pen-pushers never bumped her off, though. She reveals that she and Charles Lawson (Jim) were rare among the soap’s cast in having 12-month contracts, ensuring – in soap terms – relative immortality. The Corrie door remains open, it seems. But Bev is not Liz at the moment. She’s Mari in Jim Cartwright’s hit play of 1992, which begins the second leg of a national tour in Newcastle.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice tells of the shy girl who grieves for her dead dad by mimicking the divas on his favourite records.
But there are those who would exploit her talent, notably her mum’s boyfriend, Ray Say, who operates on the seedy fringes of showbiz.
I don’t remember feeling a great deal of sympathy for Mari when I saw the 1998 film adaptation, which had Brenda Blethyn in the role. “The film is very different to the play,” stresses Bev. “The play is actually incredible. Mari is the leading role. Jim said to me when we talked about it, ‘She’s the juggernaut that drives the play’.
“There’s only six pages I’m not on stage, and it is quite exhausting. But she’s the most complex person. She’s a grieving widow who has lost all communication with her daughter.
“She loves her daughter and her daughter loves her but there is a total breakdown between them.
“Mari resents her husband for dying. She’s trying to mend the relationship with her daughter but they’re totally different people. Mari is certainly verging on being a total alcoholic and she’s incredibly lonely.
“She meets this man, Ray, and just thinks it’s fantastic because not only does he want her, but he’s in entertainment management, or so she thinks. He’s going to make her daughter a star.
“She doesn’t know Little Voice is talented. She’s not the brightest of people and she’s heard her singing all her life. The only thing she can compare it to is the records.
“When this man says they can make some money, Mari thinks: ‘This is it. All my dreams have come together at once. He’ll love me and love my daughter and take care of us forever’.”
Jim Cartwright wrote the play and directs this production, which means he chose the cast too. A great gesture of faith, I suggest.
“He asked me to do it a couple of years ago,” says Bev. “On the last tour he and his wife came to see it many times. He said, ‘Mari is yours. You’ve made her yours. No-one has ever felt sympathy for her before’.
“It is incredible because the audience laughs at her in the beginning and then with her. Then they cry with her as well.”
Bev, who has clearly repaid the director’s faith in her, says he has packaged the play in a very special way, ensuring a warm atmosphere as the audience takes its seats so everyone feels comfortable and involved.
At the Guildford theatre, where the first tour opened, the play got a standing ovation. “The manager said it was the first for 40 years. There were eight performances, and it got one every time.”
Hence the new 20-week tour starting tomorrow, following a rehearsal period in Newcastle to help some new understudies bed in. Bev, who was born in Leeds, has never acted in Newcastle before, but she has worked here in her other professional guise as a fitness trainer – something she got into when recuperating from a serious car accident.
She exudes an inner calm which must be a useful defence against a permanently hectic schedule, dating from those Coronation Street years. The downside of Corrie, says Bev, is that “you really never have another life” between shooting scenes and learning lines.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is at the Theatre Royal from Tuesday to Saturday. Tickets: 0844 811 2121 or www.theatreroyal.co.uk