Beverley Callard is one of soapland’s most recognisable faces, and probably Britain’s best known barmaid.
Playing Liz McDonald for 22 years in Coronation Street, she became well known for her glam dress sense and disastrous story lines as she tottered along the cobbled streets.
But for the first time in a decade, the Leeds-born actress is heading back to her roots and is currently touring the country in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.
Playing Little Voice’s neurotic mother, Mari Hoff, she picks up the phone after just finishing the first run in Newcastle.
Last year Beverley jumped at the chance to take part in a shorter 12-week run, as she explains: ‘We did a much shorter stint that wasn’t meant to carry on any longer than that, but it was so successful they asked us to do it again.
‘Of course we all said we’d love to do it. It’s also flattering because theatre goers have got to save their money now, and we thought we would just see how it goes.’
She adds: ‘But we’ve had standing ovations. It’s amazing for us really, especially when more and more theatres want to put it on.’
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice follows a shy girl who spends most of her time immersed in her late father’s record collection, perfecting her impersonations.
Her fun-loving and out-of-control mother Mari Hoff, isn’t very happy about it. When her man of the moment, Ray Say, hears Little Voice singing, her daughter is propelled to stardom overnight. But no-one really thinks to ask her what she wants.
For Beverley, the best way to sum up her on-stage character is to describe her as a ‘juggernaut that drives the whole play’.
‘She’s the leading role, but she’s also a grieving widow on the verge of alcoholism and she’s fragile, but she loves her daughter.
‘They’ve lost all communication, but it’s an amazing role to play. It’s amazing, funny and sad. You begin to laugh at her, then you laugh with her and then you cry with her.’
But her prominent part in the play means she’s on stage for pretty much the duration, with little time to take a breather.
Beverley says: ‘There are only six pages where I’m not on stage and they are very quick changes.’
But it was the script that first drew her to the role: ‘I’d read it and seen the film, even though the play came first. When I saw the play I thought it was a lot better.
‘It goes into much more detail and the characters are very defined. It’s just a proper story.’
She adds: ‘The audience are instantly taken with it, and the second they walk into the auditorium it’s like they are a part of the story. Jim Cartwright, who wrote it , is directing, so it’s also exactly how he wanted it to be performed.’
Beverley had her first acting job at the age of seven when she was a page boy, but she began professional acting when she appeared on stage as Jaqui Coryton in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. She went on to make her television debut in an episode of the Yorkshire soap Emmerdale Farm as Angie Richards in 1983.
The following year, she played Gail and Brian Tilsley’s friend June Dewhurst in Coronation Street, and in 1989, Beverley agreed to return and play the new and more significant role of Liz McDonald, the matriarch of the new McDonald family.
Throughout her 22 years in the soap in two stints, her character endured being a battered wife, a kidnap victim, a harassed mother and an unfaithful wife.
She once revealed that she and Charles Lawson (screen husband Jim) were rare among the soap’s cast in having 12-month contracts, which means they were relatively safe when it came to bumping off the characters.
She left after 10 years and played Flo Henshaw for four years in the BBC Three sitcom, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet Of Crisps.
She then returned before quitting the Street (seemingly for good) in 2011. At this point she filed for bankruptcy, just weeks after her mother died, but now the actress is back on her feet.
Beverley believes the reason she left the soap was because she wanted to get back on stage again.
Beverley explains: ‘I hadn’t done it for a while and I think every actor should make sure they do it. It just felt like my time to do it again.
‘I truly love being on stage and being on the small screen, and I love to act. I could never choose between the two mediums.’
And even though it seems she has left the cobbled street for good, she hasn’t turned her back on the soap forever: ‘I would never say never to going back to Coronation Street, and they were marvellous when I left.
‘They didn’t want me to go and they told me they weren’t going to kill my character off because they wanted me back.’
She adds: ‘Right now, it’s not the time for me, but I would never say never. I miss the people, even though I see them a lot of the time anyway. They’re all coming to see the show when it arrives in Manchester.’
After the tour ends in June, Beverley plans taking a couple of weeks off before she begins filming a BBC comedy. But she won’t reveal details.
Having just nipped to the shop to buy some groceries, she’s says she’s more often than not recognised as Liz. But she wouldn’t have it any other way. It comes with the territory. I’ve just gone to the shop and I’ve been signing autographs. It’s amazing.’
Beverley Callard will be starring in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Kings Theatre from Monday until Saturday. Tickets cost £23.50 to £28 on (023) 9282 8282 or go to kings-southsea.com.