Vicky Entwhistle: Stepping out of Coronation Street’s shadow

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Her first career choice was the law, but it was on stage and screen where Vicky Entwistle found her natural home. She talks to Phil Penfold.

“I haven’t got a clue of where it came from,” laughs the 46-years-old actress, “but as a kid, I had my heart set on being a barrister. I thought that that would be incredibly glamourous, standing up in court and righting wrongs. Getting the good guys off, and making sure that the bad un’s were safely locked up.

“I certainly didn’t have ‘jazz hands’, and I wasn’t that sort of little girl who was always showing off and getting upon the parlour table when the family came round. But then, when I was in my very early teens and at school, we were given a few options – games and the gym, PE or the rounders field, or drama class, and the performing thing seemed a far better option. I didn’t want to be running around a field all afternoon, so drama it was.”

And then she laughs and adds: “However, I really don’t see a lot of difference, come to think about it, between acting and appearing in court. There are a lot of lawyers out there who are given to the grand gestures, to the theatrical flourishes, aren’t there. The two are, I think, very much the same.”

Born in Oswaldwistle, near Accrington in Lancashire, Vicky found fame as Coronation Street’s loudmouthed factory activist Janice Battersby, a role she played for over a decade – but not before she’d served her term at drama school in London, and as a Pontin’s Bluecoat, as well as working her way through a lot of minor roles in assorted TV and theatre productions.

And now, after a long stint as Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables in the West End, she’s back in the north, playing the over the top mother Mari in Rise and Fall of Little Voice, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Yes, she says, “I still do get recognised by people – hardly surprising after all those years in Corrie – but today it happens less and less, and to my great relief, if I am stopped, and folk want to chat, then they call me Vicky , instead of Janice. Which is moving on, I suppose, from the lady who I once described as ‘the fat ugly one with the big gob’.

“No-one in this business ever makes a conscious decision to do this or that genre of acting. You do what you’re offered, when the offers come, and sometimes you get a part that you feel that you can settle in to, and make your own. There are others where you think ‘Ah, well this will pay the bills and the mortgage’.

“It’s the truth, why deny it? There were bits of Janice that were in me, and obviously a lot of me in Janice. That’s what you give to a role – it’s the same with Mari. But then there’s a great deal that is not. Both women are full-on, 24-7, and that’s not me at all.

“Mari would go crazy if she was in a room by herself. She has to be with people, pushing herself, she can’t stand solitude, and she can’t stand being ignored.

“She’d never sit down and watch TV by herself, or read a book or a magazine. Now I can. I like a bit of time to myself occasionally, so sit back and reflect on things. Mari has to have an audience – all the time. She’s loud, and demanding, and totally different from her daughter, who is happy in her own space.

“Frankly, I don’t know how the two of them can live in the same house. Now me, I love an audience, but only when I’m up there, working and performing. When the curtain comes down, there’s a very different Vicky off-stage to the one that is on.”

She says: “Corrie was full-on. You lived it, slept it. There was hardly a moment to think about things, and while I loved it, I realise that I really missed the theatred – because there, the reaction is instant, and go get time to explore the character that you’re playing.

“Rehearsals are a very important time for me. You find that, very slowly, you build the person that other people are going to see when they sit down to watch the show.”

She and her husband Andy Chapman discovered that they couldn’t have children, and Vicky says simply: “Nothing can change that, so you accept it, and you get on with it.

“We take the view that there’s no use worrying about something that isn’t going to happen. You don’t miss what you never had, so ‘fait accompli’.

“I don’t know what sort of mother I would have been, so why think about it. Not a very good one, perhaps, because I like my social life a lot.”

When she’s not working, the two of them like to travel, “and I love the Far East and the Caribbean, but as the years go by, you don’t want to be sitting for hours in a plane, do you? So we go more and more to a place that we lucky enough to have in Spain, not so far from Barcelona, and we just sit back and chill out and enjoy the sunshine.

“It’s a place to breathe and to wind down. I’m happy with those days when I’m doing the washing up, and then I can sit down, and tell him that I love him.

“What comes next after Little Voice? I really couldn’t tell you. I’m always talking to people about this and that, but it’ll happen when it happens. I’ll tell you what I’ve really enjoyed in the past few years, and that’s doing proper, well-produced and traditional pantomimes.

“I’ve been lucky in that the ones I’ve appeared in have always struck to a plot, and a good story, and that we haven’t had daft gimmicks like a flying saucer coming in, or a Dalek. Trust me, it does happen.

“I can’t properly recall the first panto I saw, it was probably when I was about six, and in the local civic hall. But I’ll tell you this much, I truly do reckon that pantomime is where you get the audiences of tomorrow.

“Send a youngster out at the end of the show who is over the moon with excitement, and they are hooked for life. Send them out shrugging their shoulders and thinking ‘So what?’ and they’ll never ever come back. A lot of actors deride panto and knock it.

“I don’t. I love it. It’s where it all begins, where the love of live performance starts. I’m proud to be part of that.”

* The Rise and Fall of Little Voice runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from June 5 to July 4. There will be a post-show discussion after the June 16 performance. For more details call 0113 213 7700,