Coronation Street stars take the stage at the Capitol Theatre

Like the Maritimes own Alexander Keith’s, those who love long-running British soap opera Coronation Street certainly love it a lot.

The show, set in a fictional town in England’s Greater Manchester, holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for longest-running soap opera in production having been on the air for more than 50 years. Broadcast in Canada on CBC, Coronation Street is a global phenomenon, airing in territories including Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates.

From the 1960s through to the 1980s, it is reported that individual episodes of Coronation Street would often attract upwards of 20 million viewers per episode. With many modern television shows seeing dramatic decreases in viewership as more and more people take to the Internet to watch their favourite shows, Coronation Street has weathered this storm rather well. The show reportedly attracts between 8 and 14 million people per episode. For a bit of perspective, America’s Got Talent was the number one rated show in the U.S. during the week of May 28 through June 3 and, as per Neilsen television ratings, attracted 11.5 million people for an episode that aired on Tuesday May 28.

Fans of Coronation Street will get a unique and in-depth look into the storylines and the history behind the long-running show when Corrie Street characters Fiz and John Stape, played by Jennie McAlpine and Graeme Hawley, take the stage at the Capitol Theatre on Friday night. Hosted by Neville Mackay, the interview-style show will also offer showgoers the opportunity to pose their questions to the stars.

Perhaps ironically, neither of the roles played by Hawley and McAlpine were expected to be permanent roles.

McAlpine joined the cast of Coronation Street approximately 11 years ago for what she believed would be a four-episode stint. Once those four episodes had wrapped however, she was asked to return to take up a permanent role in the show.

Graeme says that he moved into ‘The Street’ in March of 2007 and, like Jennie, his days with the show were originally numbered as well.

“I had originally joined the show for six months,” he says, “but ended up being there for almost 10 months. I left the show and anticipated that would probably be the end of the John Stape character. However, a couple of months later, I received a phone call asking me to return and it has simply spiraled from there!”

Both Jennie and Graeme tell The Times & Transcript that they were fans of the show prior to joining the cast with McAlpine saying that she still watches almost every episode when it airs.

“I have always been a big Corrie fan,” Jennie says. “I still watch the show religiously, although watching your own storylines on screen takes a little getting used to.”

Hawley expands upon his co-star’s sentiment about the show, saying that his mother introduced him to the show at a relatively young age.

“I grew up with Coronation Street always being around. There have been times in its history that I followed the show perhaps a little more closely than in other times but in England, and Manchester specifically, it is a part of the fabric of the country. You can’t help but follow the show.”

Graeme and Jennie taking the stage at the Capitol Theatre on Friday night will offer the actors a rather large change of pace from the calculated, scripted set on which they are accustomed to working. Sharing the behind-the-scenes look at the show with fans is a somewhat new experience for the stars but is one that they revel in being able to provide.

“I think that it is great for people to get an insight into how the show comes together and to find out a bit more about the people that play the characters that they invite into their homes every week,” Graeme says. “Being a huge football fan, I know that getting a behind-the-scenes look at a football club is incredibly exciting for me so I can completely understand and appreciate the sentiment of our fans coming to these question and answer sessions.

“I have done qute a few Q&A sessions for Corrie over the last few years but never anything of the scale of this before. And certainly never in another country, so this is a new experience for me, one that I am really excited about!”

Jennie says that undertaking a question and answer tour, let alone in a completely different country, has helped her drive home the impact that the show has had upon the lives of complete strangers.

“It is only when you come to somewhere like Canada that you realize the reach and the enormity of the show,” she says. “I find it rather amazing that a show that began over 50 years and is still filmed in it’s home in Manchester, seems so relevant in all corners of the world.”

The global reach of Coronation Street is something that Graeme admits that, in the very best of ways, he is still coming to terms with

“It is always lovely and very humbling to go to a new country and see that Corrie is so popular. It reminds me what an amazing opportunity it has been to be part of the show,” he says.“If I think too much about how many people watch the show worldwide it makes my mind spin. Our show at the Capitol Theatre will be a wonderful chance to get out and meet some of our Canadian fans. It really is a great honour.”

Article published in June 13, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript