THE QUEEN OF THE NORTH
by Ron Rose.
Octagon Theatre To 26 May 2012.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 May.
Shedloads of research doesn’t amount to half a Tanner.
I saw Patricia Phoenix only once in a theatre. As I stood in the foyer of Manchester’s Opera House during the interval of a sparsely-attended 1970s touring production, the grand staircase from the Dress Circle was suddenly occupied by this iconic figure, wrapped in fur, hair elegantly styled, cigarette perched at an appropriate angle, talking to her companion.
There we were, just up the road from Granada Studios, where Coronation Street had been recorded twice-weekly since late 1960. From a modern perspective it was early days, but at the time it was an established part of many people’s lives; the Street had become ‘the people’s soap-opera’, with its community of characters recognisable as the core of a northern city.
It was ruled by three forceful women, the snobbish Annie Walker at one end in The Rover’s Return, Ena Sharples, looking after the mission at the other (when not drinking with her friends in the Rover’s). Midway along lived Phoenix’s Elsie Tanner.
These three were a match for each other, and in a class of their own. Elsie was divorced but young enough to live again, and did so through whatever life, and the scriptwriters, could throw at her.
If only playwright Ron Rose had followed this through, and shown how Phoenix and Tanner were made for, or moulded, each other. But The Queen of the North is more like an early draft. The research is ill-digested, the structure, looking back from Phoenix’s final illness, merely interrupts any continuity, while making actors traipse time-consumingly up and down the stairs to her hospital room in Elizabeth Wright’s two-level design.
And the glimpses of her life have no sense of progress or culminating purpose. The diagnosis of her condition is wearily prolonged while minimising anything it might say about relationships or Phoenix’s own mind. Neither her life before or after Corrie comes clearly across.
Lynda Rooke takes any opportunity the script gives, and looks for opportunities in the large gaps between. Surrounding performances are dutiful. But there’s no sense of excitement on stage to match that the audience clearly brings to the theatre.
Harry Kershaw/Bill K/Consultant/Director/Bill N/Policeman/Mourner: Paul-Ryan Carberry.
Minnie/Jean/Paula/June/Nurse/Kathy/Stage Manager: Charlie Covell.
Tom Manfield/Alan Browning/Priest/Peter Adamson: Matt Healy.
Adele/Violet Carson/Stage Manager/Anna/Mourner: Sally Hodgkiss.
Tony Booth: John McArdle.
Pat Phoenix: Lynda Rooke.
Director: Elizabeth Newman.
Designer: Elizabeth Wright.
Lighting: Jacob Mason-Dixon.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Nick Birchill.