With his first new play for almost a decade, the playwright Jonathan Harvey – noted for his writing role in what is soon to become the world’s longest-running soap opera – returns to the British stage “with a bang.”
His new work was inspired by criticism levelled at the first-ever gay storyline in the UK’s oldest soap, Coronation Street.
Harvey was responsible for developing the 2003 plot for the drama – which is set in the fictional town of Weatherfield – in which Todd Grimshaw, played by Bruno Langley, slowly came to the realization that he was gay. Harvey then went on to devise storylines for the show’s other main gay character, Sean Tully (Antony Cotton).
At the time, Coronation Street – widely referred to, affectionately, as Corrie by its fans – provoked a mixed response from viewers when Langley’s character was seen kissing his girlfriend’s brother Nick Tilsley (Adam Rickitt). Although the drama was praised by gay-rights campaigners for tackling homosexual issues in the show for the first time, the TV presenter and journalist Ulrika Jonsson was among those who slammed the move, arguing that the kiss should not have been broadcast before the watershed.
Reflecting on the response to the 2003 Corrie plotline, Harvey, in an interview given to the Guardian, said, “It proved that we are still some way short of full acceptance, which made me think it was about time I tried to write a new play.”
The result, Canary, which is currently running at the Liverpool Playhouse, follows the lives of two characters, Tom and Billy, encompassing 50 years of British gay history.
Harvey, who is himself openly gay, told the Guardian: “It’s my first full-length stage piece for almost nine years. I wanted to come back with a bang.”
Jonathan Harvey has been writing for television, stage and screen since the early nineties. As well as his stint as a scriptwriter on Coronation Street, Harvey also wrote for the BBC black comedy series Murder Most Horrid, starring Dawn French (The Vicar of Dibley), and created the popular BBC sitcom about a gay teenager growing up in 1990s Reading, Beautiful People, which stars Luke Ward-Wilkinson (Wild at Heart).
His plays include The Cherry Blossom Tree (which won him the 1987 National Girobank Young Writer of the Year Award) and Hushabye Mountain. However, he is probably best well known for Beautiful Thing, a play that tells the story of the embryonic love between two schoolboys, Jamie and Ste. In 1996, Harvey adapted it as a film, which starred Glen Berry (Grange Hill) as Jamie and Scott Neal (The Bill) as Ste, and was directed by Hettie McDonald (Doctor Who).
Set in Manchester, in the fictional town of Weatherfield, Coronation Street is produced by ITV Studios (formerly by Granada Television) and holds the distinction of being the UK’s longest-running soap opera.
When the US soap opera As the World Turns comes to an end in September 2010, Coronation Street will become the longest-running soap opera in the world. The drama’s first episode was broadcast on December 9, 1960, and it will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary later this year.
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