Beverley Callard - from Corrie to Little Voice

Benerley Callard as Mari Hoff, Jess Robinson as Little Voice and Ray Quinn as Billy

Benerley Callard as Mari Hoff, Jess Robinson as Little Voice and Ray Quinn as Billy - Credit: Archant

Beverley Callard was known to millions as Rovers Return landlady Liz McDonald in Coronation Street. Now she's wowing theatre audiences in the Olivier Award-winning production of Little Voice. KATHRYN BRADLEY spoke to her.

The heart-warming northern fairytale tells the story of shy Little Voice, who spends most of her time immersed in her late father's record collection and perfecting her astonishing impersonations, much to the dismay of her fun-loving, out-of-control mother Mari.

Overheard singing by Ray Say, a hapless talent scout and Mari's man of the moment, Little Voice is propelled to stardom as Ray sets about creating the show of the century in a dingy local working men's club.

With an agent from London coming, Mari and Ray think it will be their ticket to the big time but Little Voice is not convinced it is what she wants.

Written and directed by Jim Cartwright, the latest production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a story of music, divas and romance featuring songs by some of the world's greatest female stars, including Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand.

Determined to hit the big time, Ray sets about creating the show of the century with Little Voice as his star. When the big night arrives, Ray is convinced that this is his last chance for fame and fortune. But has anyone asked Little Voice what she wants?

The cast of the production, which comes from the West End, includes Coronation Street's Beverley Callard, West End regular Ray Quinn, who has previously appeared in Dirty Dancing, Grease and Legally Blonde, and newcomer Jess Robinson as Little Voice. It is almost half-way through a 20-week tour of Britain and Beverley said the reception so far had been fantastic.

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'It is going amazingly well,' said Beverley Callard. 'We are totally stunned by the reaction and can't believe it.

'Originally it was only supposed to run for 12 weeks before Christmas last year. We got amazing standing ovations everywhere, all the other theatres wanted it and we are now in the middle of another 20-week run.'

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice was released as a film starring Jane Horrocks as Little Voice, Brenda Blethyn as Mari Hoff and Michael Caine as Ray Say in 1998.

The film, with its title shortened to Little Voice, was a box office hit and was nominated for a host of industry awards.

Beverley said the success of the stage show was down to the fact writer Jim Cartwright was also the director.

'The film was great but they hacked the script about so much so Jim Cartwright said he wanted to direct it himself,' said Beverley. 'It is exactly how he intended it to be.

'The way Jim has directed it is amazing. From the second people walk into the auditorium, they are greeted with something different. They are entertained from the actual auditorium as well as from the stage. It has made the whole night an experience.'

Jim asked Beverley to take on the role of Mari two years ago. She has since won praise from critics for her performance.

'I do work very hard,' she said. 'I think actors are usually quite shy. I don't enjoy appearing as Bev. I love it when you know a writer has agonised to get the words on paper. You have to agonise to make that role come to life. You have just got to do as much justice as you can to that character. Hopefully then people think it is so good it must have been written for her.'

Beverley first appeared in Coronation Street as Gail and Brian Tilsley's friend June Dewhurst. She returned to the soap as Liz McDonald in 1989 and became one of the iconic landladies of the Rovers Return.

She left the street almost 10 years later to concentrate on her other career as an aerobics instructor.

In 2001, Beverley was cast as Flo Henshaw in the BBC Three sitcom Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps – a role she played for four years.

She returned to Coronation Street in 2003, leaving in 2011 to spend more time with her mother, who lost her battle with Alzheimer's in January 2012.

Her busy touring schedule means she hasn't had a chance to watch Coronation Street and didn't see the Rovers Return go up in flames during an episode that attracted millions of viewers when it was aired in March.

She said she thought the iconic pub would be rebuilt and said she hadn't ruled out returning to the show.

'In this business you never say never,' she said. 'I loved playing Liz, plus they wrote for me brilliantly. I have fond memories of it.

'I also love playing the comedy roles but I also love drama. I would love to be cast in a role with no make-up on and long skirts.

'One of my ambitions is to work with Jimmy McGovern. He wrote an episode in Coronation Street where Liz had a nine-page monologue. He was fantastic.'

Actors playing alongside Beverley in the Little Voice production are X Factor finalist Ray Quinn as Billy, comedian Duggie Brown as Mr Boo, singer and impressionist Jess Robinson as Little Voice, Simon Thorp as Ray Say and Sally Plum as Sadie.

t Little Voice, Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, April 8-13, Mon-Sat £27.50-£23.50 (£25.50-£21.50 cons)/Wed and Sat matinees £23.50-£19.50 (£22.50-18.50 cons), 01502 533200,