Corrie’s Queen

A scene from Queen of the North at The Octagon, Bolton
A scene from Queen of the North at The Octagon, Bolton
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REVIEW: “Queen of the North”, at the Octagon Theatre Bolton until May 26th

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Writer Ron Rose has taken on a real challenge.

It is hard to create a drama about an iconic figure. Pat Phoenix was, perhaps, the original British TV celeb in the days when there were only a few terrestrial channels to watch. Everyone who can remember that far back, whether they watched “Corrie” or not, knew her and it is hard to differentiate between her persona as Elsie Tanner, the archetypal strong “blousy” woman, and the reality of Pat Phoenix herself.

With hindsight and Rose’s take on her life, it is hard to distinguish. Phoenix faced as many of life’s disappointments, especially in her relationships with men, as did her fictional incarnation. Rose has structured the play, beginning with her approaching death, and leading to a series of flashbacks.

This works well because it allows us to focus on a series on key moments in her life, centred on her complex amours. The production, directed by Elizabeth Newman, is enriched and enlivened by a stupendous performance by Lynda Rooke as Pat.

She carries it from betrayed child to dying woman. Her physical presence is amazing. She extracts all the humour and the pathos of the role. Her rapport with the audience helps. I don’t think I will forget the laugh when she provoked us into considering the possibility of an “intelligent man”... as rare as “rocking horse sh*t!”

Rooke is well supported by a strong performance from Ribble Valley-based actor John McArdle as Tony Booth, fighting with his own demons, the love of her young life and the deepest love of her last days. Of course, he is now so much better known for another role in what might be called real life!

A group of four actors play a variety of roles in the lives of both characters. Matt Healey gives a great interpretation of all the other men in her life, her bigamist father, Peter Adamson and Alan Browning. Paul Ryan Carberry, Charlie Covell and Sally Hodgkiss play mother, friends etc. and even a fleeting glimpse of the incomparable Ena Sharples (I had a schoolfriend with me who actually knew Violet Carsons!).

Elizabeth Wright’s design gives a flexibility of movement from hospital bed to a turning stage and a door, which helps us follow the central character’s passage through life.

Hurry to see this interesting production. I hope it gets an extension or a tour, which allows less fortunate people who do not live in the North West a chance to see this. The Octagon’s next production is “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” and I can tell you they have planned an interesting series of productions for next season.