It's great to be back on stage
LIFE often goes full circle and for much-loved former Coronation Street actress Beverley Callard it has meant returning to the stage – back where her career began.
For her comeback, the usually lean and healthy star has had to put on two stone by pigging out on junk food and giving up exercising.
At first Beverley thought it would only be for three months, but her new role, in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, has been such a hit that the play's run has been extended.
It arrives at the Princess Theatre in Torquay on Monday, February 25, and is being staged there until Saturday, March 2.
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Beverley stars as overbearing man-eating mother Mari Hoff, with other cast members including Dancing on Ice winner and X Factor contestant Ray Quinn, and comedian Duggie Brown. The Olivier award-winning comedy is the heart-warming northern fairytale of shy Little Voice whose extraordinary talent remains a secret until she is overheard by a local talent scout Ray Say.
Determined to hit the big time, Ray sets about creating the show of the century, but has anyone asked Little Voice what she wants?
The show features songs from some of the world's most iconic divas including Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Bassey and Judy Garland.
Enjoying being back on a theatre tour again, Beverley enthuses: "It's the most amazing play and it was written by Jim Cartwright. When I read it I said I will do it wherever whenever!
"Often you do a play and never get to speak to the writer as more often than not they are dead! Jim not only wrote it but also directed it so working with him is just a gift. He is such a talented man."
Beverley is just as enthusiastic about the character she plays, describing it as "the most amazing role for an actress". But it has had its downsides, and not just because she had to pile on the pounds.
"Learning all the lines was tough," admits Beverley. "Usually I find it very easy but I've got so many. There's only six pages of the script I'm not in.
"I had to put on two stone for the role. I've never eaten so much junk food in my life. I stopped working out for a while. That is obviously such a massive part of my life normally, and I do miss it terribly, but Mari is meant to be large and bulging out of her clothes.
"As an actor you have to become that person when you're on stage. I'm now a size 12 but at least at Christmas I didn't care what I ate. It was great!"
Since leaving Coronation Street in 2010 after playing the role of Liz McDonald for more than 21 years, Beverley had long dreamed of getting back on the stage. But first she had to get herself back to full health after suffering from severe depression. At her lowest ebb she was admitted to the Priory hospital in Altrincham and underwent electro-convulsive therapy – better known as electric shock treatment.
Beverley's own life could easily be the material of a soap script because she and her husband battled bankruptcy after two pubs they owned folded, and on top of the stress her mother had Alzheimer's.
"Life is never boring is it?," laughs Beverley trying to make light of it all. "I had one pub and it did so well so we got a much bigger one and then the credit crunch hit.
"We lost everything but you just have to climb back up again. I did love it as I'm a people person but I wouldn't do it again with the way the economy is.
"It's hard to have it splashed across the papers but it goes with the job. The only thing you can do is to be honest."
Even as open as Beverley is, she admits that at first she had no idea that what she was suffering from was depression.
"I just knew I wasn't myself," she recalls. "I thought it would never happen to me because I'm a strong and feisty female. But I think depression is probably the curse of the strong.
"I thought I could keep on going but for what? Maybe if I had been a little bit more of a quitter it would not have got to that stage.
"I had no option but to talk about it because the papers were outside the hospital, but the reaction I got from the public was fantastic.
"I certainly think clinical depression has such a nasty stigma and people are trying to get rid if that, but it is still there. So if people do talk about it I hope it will help eradicate that stigma. Whether it will completely I don't know but you've got to try as it can happen to anyone."
Now Beverley is focusing on her acting career again. It was back in 1983 she made her television debut as Angie Richards in Emmerdale Farm. The following year she was cast as June Dewhurst in Coronation Street and then returned in 1989 to play Liz McDonald. She went on to become one of the Rover's Return's most iconic landladies.
"When I left Coronation Street people said that I was either very brave or very stupid," recalls Beverley. "I just needed to do something different. As much as I loved to play Liz, I had wanted to do something else for a while and this latest role as Mari is a gift really. Obviously I miss the people but I see them as often as I can.
"I was very lucky with my storylines in Corrie. I loved it and it was an amazing part of my life.
"Now it's just so great to be working in theatre again and connecting with a live audience. Being on stage is why I went into the business. It's what I wanted to do more than anything.
"I was very nervous at first because it had been 10 years since I had been on stage, and I just couldn't believe the amazing reviews.
"In one theatre we got a standing ovation for every performance and they had not had one for 40 years."
Despite Beverley's love of the stage, it doesn't mean it's the last we have seen of her on our television screens. She will make her return later this year in BBC comedy In With the Flynns starring Will Mellor.
"I'm hoping to just keep on doing both and have the best of both worlds," says Beverly.
"There are so many roles I would like to play and people I would like to work with, such as Victoria Wood. They did leave the door open for me at Corrie, and obviously I would never say never, but it certainly won't be yet because I'm having too good a time."
Tickets for the show cost from £10 to £32.50. Matinee performances will take place on Wednesday and Saturday. Call 0844 871 7627 or visit www.princesstheatre.org.uk