Entertainment & Arts

Ex-Corrie star Deborah McAndrew cooks up writing success

Deborah McAndrew
Image caption McAndrew's last play won a UK Theatre Award and a Manchester Theatre Award

Deborah McAndrew found fame as Coronation Street's Angie Freeman in the 1990s. But she then stepped back from the spotlight and has since become an award-winning playwright - and even turned down a return to the soap, in its script department.

The humble fish supper is not normally the source of high drama, but fish and chips is at the heart of the action in McAndrew's latest play.

One of Each, which takes its name from a Yorkshire way of ordering fish and chips, tells the tale of chippy-owning twins, one male and one female, who go head-to-head for the title of Britain's finest fryer.

McAndrew has cooked up a story that also weaves in sea shanties, three ghostly fishwives, a mysterious storm and a reclusive multi-millionaire.

Image copyright ITV/Rex_Shutterstock
Image caption McAndrew joined Coronation Street in 1990, and returned for a second spell in 1996

"I realised I'd got quite a lot of Shakespearean things," she says. "I'd got twins and storms at sea and three supernatural women.

"Except they're not like the witches of Macbeth because they're benign."

For the opening night on Wednesday, One of Each will be performed not in a theatre but - fittingly - in the Wetherby Whaler fish and chip restaurant in Guiseley, Leeds.

"Having watched the play, I imagine that you'd quite fancy some fish and chips by the end of it," McAndrew says.

The Wetherby Whaler was Harry Ramsden's original outlet and still has his crystal chandeliers and stained glass that make it a grander setting than some theatres.

After being performed to diners, the show, which is being staged by touring theatre company Mikron, will visit pubs, village halls and sports clubs around the country.

Image copyright Peter Boyd
Image caption One of Each will be on tour until October

One of Each is McAndrew's first work since she won the UK Theatre Award for best new play in 2014 for An August Bank Holiday Lark, about a village at the outbreak of World War One.

That prize was a milestone for McAndrew, 14 years after she decided to swap acting for writing.

She made her name on screen in the early 1990s as the sparky design student who was the object of Curly Watts's affections on Coronation Street, spending four years on the cobbles during two spells on the show.

'Turbulent time'

But she was never comfortable with fame, she says and has now successfully reinvented herself while avoiding the bit-part and panto circuit that is usually the fate of the former soap star.

McAndrew wrote plays from a young age, penning scripts for her sisters and her friends to perform while growing up, she says.

After studying drama at Manchester University, she was interested in teaching or doing drama therapy, but decided to give acting a go and won an initial three-month contract with Corrie.

"I thought, 'Great, I'll pay off my overdraft,'" she says.

"And I ended up staying there for three years, in which time everything changed and I had a very turbulent time in my mid-20s when I didn't know what was going on.

"That was the peculiarity.

"I was quite a serious girl, and yet I found myself in the newspapers and all that stuff.

"That wasn't something I was very comfortable with, being famous."

Image copyright Andrew Billington
Image caption McAndrew also teaches playwriting and has set up her own theatre company

But she has accepted that fans continue to recognise her, even 17 years after she left the soap for good.

"It's been a long time - over half my life, people have known me as Angie, and that's absolutely fine," she says. "They talk to me still.

"My voice isn't any different, and I just look a bit older. I don't think I look that different. So people say hello and they're nice, and I don't mind that at all."

After leaving Coronation Street, McAndrew went back to her first love - theatre. As well as acting, she would write "in the gaps".

But her priorities changed when her daughter was born in 2001, meaning she no longer wanted to go on tour or spend weeks in strange towns.

"Basically, overnight I switched my focus from acting to writing, and that's where I've been for the last 14 years now," she says.

TV job offer

But she did not sever all ties with Coronation Street. She was, she reveals, offered the chance of to return - this time working in the script department, not in front of the cameras.

McAndrew submitted a script to producers about 10 years ago, she says, leading them to invite her to spend time in the story office.

"It was like work experience," she says. "I went to story conference, which was a bit peculiar because the writers were looking at me going, 'What's she doing here?'"

McAndrew was eventually offered a job as a storyliner.

Storyliners take story ideas from writers and plan how they will pan out over days, weeks and months.

They then plan what action needs to take place in each episode and send the plans back to the writers, who pen the dialogue for individual episodes.

'Not right'

But McAndrew's daughter was still young and her husband, an actor, was also often on the road.

"They offered me a job in the story office, but I didn't take it," she says.

"I didn't pursue the idea of writing for Corrie because I didn't think it was right for me at that point.

"If it came up, or if any telly writing came up in the future that felt right, then I would be…" She chooses not to commit herself too much by finishing that sentence.

"I was still learning my craft at that point, and I still was more focused on the theatre, and I had projects on and a very young child.

"I didn't want to be a storyliner, even though I'd enjoyed it and leaned a lot from it. I wanted to write the drama. So I pulled back from that. But they were really nice to me, and I don't have any negative feelings about Corrie at all.

"But my career and my life took a different path, and I just followed it."

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