Corrie star Craig Gazey in very peculiar comedy

Former Coronation Street star Craig Gazey is used to playing a character with a comic element but in Funny Peculiar he reveals even more of his humorous side. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

It is 'rude, racy and absolutely crazy' but Funny Peculiar has given Craig Gazey the opportunity to explore yet another new area of comedy and drama.

The former Coronation Street star, who won awards for his understated, and often amusing, portrayal of the soap's Graeme Proctor, takes the lead role in the 1970s-penned play that launched the careers of Julie Walters and Richard Beckinsale.

'When I first saw the script, I was on my own and I started to read the lines,' he recalls. 'Then my friends came in and I realised I was waving my arms around and getting really excited. It was crazy and it was rude but I could see it would be great fun.'

Prolific playwright Mike Stott is renowned for his stage, television and radio work that celebrates the oddity as well as the charm of 'ordinary life.' When first performed, Funny Peculiar enjoyed an acclaimed West End run and was nominated for Comedy of the Year.

'It encompasses very different genres of comedy from funny lines and double entendre to the slapstick of a food fight. It is a bit like Open All Hours on acid,' he says.

'Some people may be shocked initially at some of the language used but I think it has been to seen in the context of the time it was written and as a comment on society – and it is actually still very relevant today.'

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The play, which runs at the Theatre Royal next week, and also stars Vicky Entwistle, who played the feisty Janice Battersby in Coronation Street, Gemma Bissix, from both Hollyoaks and EastEnders, and Steven Blakeley, who was in Heartbeat, follows the story of small-town grocer Trevor Tinsley.

Trevor, played by Craig, with a devoted wife and a new baby, seems to have it all. Unfortunately, however, he is tempted by the charms of his next-door neighbour, prompting a host of misadventures that bring him into conflict with his strait-laced community.

'My character was originally played by Richard Beckinsale and is great. When you are an actor like me, who is a bit quirky, you do not often get the male lead – these sorts of parts only come up now and again. And it has been a platform to allow me to do something quite different.'

Craig, who joined the cast of Coronation Street in 2008 and went on to win a string of awards including Best Newcomer at the ninth Inside Soap Awards and 15th National Television Awards, as well as Best Comedy Performance at the British Soap Awards 2010, says he has been widely misquoted as leaving television to work in theatre.

'But it was not just about that,' he points out. 'In a perfect world, if I could choose, I would do some film work, some television and a couple of theatre jobs a year. But it doesn't work like that. I just want to have the chance to explore different things and different characters – and that is what I am doing.'

He goes on: 'I started performing in theatres when I was five, so it was my first calling but I have never toured before as I am doing with Funny Peculiar – or been with one play to so many different kinds of theatres. It is challenging but that is part of the fun.'

He admits, however, he is also enjoying rediscovering the adrenaline rush of performing live on stage and the immediacy of the reaction of theatregoers. The cast bounce off each other and quickly pick up on what will work well with a certain audience.

'For me, in Coronation Street, the comedy was in the way you worked with the writers. We were able to explore the character over a period of time and bring out the humour and a softer side.

'The difference with a play is that you know where you start and where you finish – you know exactly what your involvement will be and who that character is right from the beginning. But you also get that incredible response right in front of you.'

Craig is known for his skills with comedy but is keen not to be pigeon-holed. He enjoys performing in serious drama too and has starred in both Jason Hall's Third Floor and Sarah Kane's Cleansed.

Funny Peculiar may be very humour-driven but its audacious approach has also forced him to tackle something new and that has been immensely rewarding, he stresses.

He has been surprised at its widespread appeal and at just how much audiences are lapping up its strong language and bold staging.

'It is not something to bring the kids to as it is so rude but people of all ages and backgrounds really love it,' he says. 'My role does involve some nudity and when my uncle and cousin came to see it recently I did tell them to close their eyes. I was embarrassed but they weren't.

'I think people are often less bothered about certain things than we think they will be. The play is shocking but its humour comes in a number of different ways and that is what makes it so enjoyable for me as well as the audience.'

? Funny Peculiar, Norwich Theatre Royal, April 30-May 5, �22-�5.50, 01603 630000,