Corrie star to help tell story of the Great War

Wendi Peters in Oh What A Lovely War
Wendi Peters in Oh What A Lovely War
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The factory workers of Lancashire will help tell one of the most poignant recollections of the First World War, with the help of county actress Wendi Peters.

The former Coronation Street star goes back to her roots in one of the many roles she plays as part of musical Oh What A Lovely War.

A satirical musical about the Great War, it is touring the country after a brief run at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London, where it premiered in 1963.

Wendi, best known as Coronation Street’s Cilla Battersby, was born in Blackburn and raised in the Ribble Valley where her parents still live.

The show sees each of its 12 cast members take on multiple roles, with Wendi by turn becoming suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, the wife of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig - who initially established what’s become the Poppy Appeal, a music hall performer who calls the men to fight, and even a mustachioed soldier.

“Backstage is madness,” Wendi said. “There’s hats, coats being changed and everyone shouting where am I next - it’s great fun.

“It’s a lovely mixture, doing lots of accents and voices, and right towards the end I use my own accent when the Lancashire lasses are sewing in the munitions factories, that’s when the audience kind of goes ‘There she is’ - even though Cilla was more Manc’ than Lancashire.

“I lead an audience participation number ‘Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts For Soldiers’, which people join in for and it gets faster and faster.”

The show features familiar songs from the era, including It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, Pack Up Your Troubles and Keep The Home Fires Burning, performed against a projected screen showing images and statistics conveying the shocking realities of war.

And the message has been brought even closer to home for Wendi - as she follows in her own daughter Gracie’s footsteps to perform in the production after the teenager took part in a school version last year.

“Gracie was rehearsing when I had been cast, and we do double up on Pankhurst,” Wendi said. “She said I’m very good at it, which is nice.”

The show was an immediate hit when it first opened in the early 1960s, but it also shocked audiences with its stark take on the war.

Now, with satire having a much more common place in modern culture, the impact has lessened somewhat, Wendi said - although the musical has not lost its power.

“We are being directed to play it very hard hitting, matter of fact and tongue in cheek, and not to get too sentimental, because that’s the audience’s job,” she explained.

“It hits harder if we just tell the facts. Every night it gets to me, when I see the statistics; 10 million missing, 7 million killed. But we don’t want to sell it as depressing, it’s interspersed with fabulous numbers - but it is still a completely entertaining night.”

* Oh What A Lovely War, Opera House, Manchester, Tuesday to Saturday, February 24 to 28. Tickets cost from £10 by calling 0844 871 3018.