“I can’t wait to get to Sheffield and repay my debts,” says Beverly Callard who is coming to the Lyceum Theatre next week in a new tour of the play, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.
The former Coronation Street star was all set to appear in the Christmas pantomime at the theatre but had to pull out when she was struck down with severe depression.
“I was broken-hearted not to do the panto,” she says. “My role was the baddie which is great because a lot of panto parts for women can be a bit drippy.”
It was not an easy decision, she admits, “as all actors are insecure and you worry you will never work again. But I had to believe what the doctors were saying and I knew I owed that time to me.
She took a year off works as she underwent treatment and recovery and Little Voice is her first job since returning - and an extremely demanding one playing the brassy man-eating mother whose daughter spends all her time in her bedroom listening to old records and impersonating singers like Édith Piaf, Judy Garland, and Shirley Bassey,
Callard disputes the notion that Mari is the mother from hell which may have resulted from the movie, Little Voice. “The play is very different from the film and the text is very wordy but it’s the most amazing script,” she says. “The biggest thing is that Mari is like a juggernaut who’s driving the play,” adding she is offstage for only about six minutes.
“People have said they have found it hysterically funny and have been crying with laughter and then with sadness too because they have such sympathy for Mari. She’s an alcoholic and is desperately lonely and she’s a brilliant mother but all communication has broken down after her husband died. Both are grieving in their own different ways.”
Callard is a mother herself, of course, with an actress daughter Rebecca Callard but hasn’t been able to draw on that to understand Mari. “Because Rebecca and I are very close and we’ve not every had that sort of breakdown,” she says. “It must be heartbreaking and if you have lost your husband as well it’s doubly difficult.
“So that’s where Marie is coming from and she thinks Ray Say, her new boyfriend, is going to be the saviour of them both. Not only has he fallen for Marie but he wants the best for Little Voice, as well, or that’s what she thinks. The audience, of course, can see what Ray is up to.”
“Jim Cartwright said to me, ‘You have made Mari your own,’ which is good to hear because it shows I am doing my job.” says Callard. Indeed he reckoned it was the most satisfying portrayal of Mari he had seen.
The playwright is directing his hit play for the first time which was originally set in Scarborough and Callard is a Yorkshirewoman. “It gets set anywhere because it’s a play that can live anywhere but I think he thought it was time he needed to get to grips with it himself and he invited me to play Mari. For me, when he asked me at the beginning of last year, I thought it would be amazing to work with him and play this role.
“We’ve had standing ovations and we’ve sold out many nights despite supposedly being in a credit crunch and Broken Britain and all that.
“I think you go into this business to get on stage more than anything and it has been ten years since I have been in theatre which was scary to start with.”
In the demanding role of Little Voice is Dead Ringers impersonator Jess Robinson.
“Jess is so talented and is brilliant as Little Voice and has got a great career ahead of her,” says Callard. “She is a lovely girl and I have told her when she is a megastar she has to stay that way.”
The cast also includes X-Factor and Dancing on Ice star Ray Quinn.
“It’s been a brave decision for Ray because this is a straight acting role and it’s not a musical, though it’s a play with music. I feel for him and know where he is coming from but he is brilliant as Billy.”
Another piece of bold casting is that of Barnsley comedian Duggie Brown, although he has taken on many acting roles down the year since being cast by Ken Loach as the milkman in Kes (alongside his sisteer, Lynne Perrie).
“Duggie is playing Mr Boo who owns the club where Little Voice sings.. He has so much energy and tells jokes all the time - not just when he is performing.
“So we are all from different backgrounds but that brings us together while we are on tour.”
Sheffield is the 12th week of the tour but it has proved successful that it is being extended next year and Callard has signed up until next summer. By May and June she will be doubling up, filming during the day episodes of the BBC sitcom, In With the Flynns, in which she plays Will Mellor’s mother-in-law.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is at the Lyceum from Monday to Saturday.