It’s been an extraordinarily busy week for ex-Coronation Street stars in London theatres: Becky Macdonald (Katherine Kelly) just came to the end of her highly-acclaimed run in the National’s ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ which proved she’s rinsed out her Rover’s apron for the very last time, and is secured as a star of the legitimate stage. Cilla Battersby-Browne (Wendi Peters) headed the first-rate cast of ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ and is set to become a genuine West End Wendi with its imminent transfer to the Arts.

Now it’s time to catch up with Les Battersby’s first wife, the redoubtable Janice (Vicky Entwistle) paired with Corrie’s own idiot-savant Graham (Craig Gazey) whose awkwardly off-beat philosophising was such a delight in the Street. It’s that gauche but lovable naivete that he tries to deploy in recreating the role of Trevor Tinsley, small town grocer and frustrated romantic originally played by Richard Beckinsale in Mike Stott’s 1976 comedy.

The trouble is that time has moved on, and things we found Funny in the 70s are now merely Peculiar.

The play is set in an unnamed Pennine town, on an incomplete composite set of corner shop and the flat above – most ‘action’ takes place by the characters coming in and reciting it.

The first ten minutes feature an unfortunate gay vicar who hangs himself from his own bell-tower rather than face down the prurient bigotry of his neighbours, and the dialogue is mostly of the “the poofter did WHAT?” variety. Then follows an extended episode in which much ribaldry occurs at the expense of a young man with learning difficulties, with lewd references to his lack of sexual experience.

No wonder the audience didn’t laugh at all for the first half hour.

For the same reasons the sitcom ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ written in the same era can no longer be broadcast because the white and black characters called each other ‘nignog’ and ‘paleface’, Mike Stott’s script is simply inappropriate for modern production. It doesn’t even have the period quality of an ‘Abigail’s Party’ and belongs in the same sitcom dustbin as ‘On The Buses’.

In a wholly implausible plot which I’ll recite in order to save you the bother of seeing this, Trevor shags a customer (Gemma Bissix) whose husband (Sam Nicholl) doesn’t really mind but his wife (Suzanne Shaw from pop group Hear’Say and simply dreadful in the role created by Julie Walters) does and – after he has played out his frustrations by smashing two dozen cream puffs over the stage in a ludicrous slapstick with the bread man and some wholly superfluous slack-buttocked nudity – she goes and sleeps with the customer couple. Trevor follows her, and they all agree to move to the country in a free love commune.

When a play is a bad as this, there can scarcely be a saving grace but if there is, it’s Vicky Entwistle playing busybody neighbour (and mother of the retarded boy) Mrs Baldry in Ena Sharples’ old coat, a bad wig and a cheap nightie.

Although when she strips off to the nightie and asks Trevor to “love” her, I had to watch through my fingers.

Runs until 28th April

The Public ReviewsOriginally published on The Public Reviews.