‘Challenge I needed’

Grand Theatre - Beverley Callard and Jess Robinson in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
Grand Theatre - Beverley Callard and Jess Robinson in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
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Beverley Callard admits there was a time when she thought she would never act again.

Having become one of Britain’s most popular Coronation Street characters, first as Gail and Brian Tilsley’s friend June Dewhurst then twice as barmaid and landlady Liz McDonald, a very public breakdown three years ago saw her hospitalised and undergoing ECT treatment.

Severe depression and personal problems including battling the imminent bankruptcy of her and her husband Jon’s pub business, her mother being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and her son admitting to alcohol dependency, resulted in a personal meltdown.

“Three years ago when I was in hospital and having ECT my memory was so poor I couldn’t write my own name,” she admits. “It was tough for a long time.”

It certainly doesn’t help preparing for major acting roles when scripts can’t be memorised - but slowly and surely she disciplined herself and is currently loving being back on tour in the revival of Jim Cartwright’s award winning play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.

“It opened in Guildford and we were told matinee audiences would be warm and would love it but wouldn’t always show it,” she says. “But we got a standing ovation every performance and that’s a real confidence booster.”

She had seen the play and film before but what won her over was when: “Jim (Cartwright) asked me to do it and said he was directing it for the first time the way he wanted it to be done.”

It was the challenge she needed.

“I’d known for 18 months I would be doing it so it gave me something to work towards,” she said.

A second leg of the tour after Christmas is already planned but first there will be a break for panto season.

“Not for me, not this year,” she says. “I’m giving it a miss to spend more time with my family. There’s not been much chance recently and it’s difficult to get us all in the same place at the same time.”

Much the same can be said about reunions with her Coronation Street colleagues.

“Do I miss it? Not at all, not at all,” she says. “I miss the people on it but I still see them when I can. I don’t miss the character of Liz McDonald at all though. I loved playing her and wouldn’t completely rule out going back if I was asked but there are so many other things to do I’m happy not being Liz for the time being. Or longer.”

Having also spent four years in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps she admits she’s torn between television and the stage.

“I love the intimacy of working to a camera but I also love a live audience especially when there’s comedy involved,” she says . “You get the feedback there and then so I suppose a sitcom with an audience is the best of both worlds.”

Surprisingly she has never worked at the Grand before.

“But I’m really looking forward to it,” she says. “Everybody I know who has worked there says how beautiful it is.

“I’ve even got friends from Spain actually flying in to see me there.”

Beverley says she’s happy to be in “a good place”.

“The rest of the cast get on so well and that’s important,” she says. “I’ve always been lucky that way. And Jim Cartwright is incredible - he’s a wonderful writer and a wonderful director.

“It’s not that often you can do a piece in theatre where you can speak to the director who is also the writer. Having him around has been wonderful.”

Despite her recent history Beverley says she was born to act.

“I was in my first play at seven,” she says. “I knew then I didn’t want to do anything else – but not in a precious way. My parents would have preferred me to get a proper job but I was always the class clown. It’s a great feeling making people laugh but I could never be a stand up.

“I’m quite shy like that – I’d rather get someone else’s work and use that. It’s easier to put your head in the sand and rely on their words.”

* The Rise and fall of Little Voice, which also stars Ray Quinn, Duggie Brown and Jess Robinson, is at Blackpool Grand Theatre from November 19 to 24.