How actor Kevin Kennedy will be hooking in the panto crowds
- Credit: Archant
Actor Kevin Kennedy's career has taken him from the Corrie cobbles to Neverland, via the West End. As he prepares to play Norwich Theatre Royal's swashbuckling panto villain Captain Hook in Peter Pan, he tells EMMA LEE that he wouldn't rule out a return to the Rovers.
Soap characters come and go. Sometimes it seems like they've barely arrived before they're being waved off in a black cab – in the case of EastEnders, quite likely bound for Norfolk.
Some are soon forgotten. Others, like Ena Sharples, Hilda Ogden and Bet Lynch become legends, imprinted on hearts and minds.
Rubbing shoulders with them in the soap hall of fame is Coronation Street's loveable loser Norman 'Curly' Watts.
Mancunian actor Kevin Kennedy was not long out of drama school when he got his break into primetime TV.
He signed up to play Curly for a couple of episodes, and ended up residing in Weatherfield for two decades.
'When Corrie came round the attraction for me was that I would be at home with mum and dad and wouldn't have to pay for digs and would get my washing done,' says Kevin.
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'I didn't realise what I was getting in to. It didn't occur to me that fame was an option and took a bit of getting used to. I was 22 or 23 and it was a bit scary - but I thoroughly enjoyed every perk they could throw at me, as you would. I had a brilliant time,' he says.
Curly certainly had more than his fair share of drama.
'I was very lucky I got to play a great range of stories, so as an actor there was always another aspect of his character,' says Kevin.
'There was the high drama of the Raquel and Des Barnes love triangle and then I got the slapstick comedy of Curly and Reg in the supermarket and then got to be the handsome leading man on the QE2.'
Since bidding farewell to Weatherfield – Curly and wife Emma left to start a new life in a village near Newcastle - Kevin has carved out a career in musical theatre, and has starred in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Rocky Horror Show, Chicago and Rock of Ages.
And this Christmas he's practising rolling his 'arrrrrs' and heading for Neverland to play swashbuckling villain Captain Hook in Norwich Theatre Royal's pantomime Peter Pan.
He stars alongside Charlotte Baptie, who recently appeared in West Side Story at the Theatre Royal, as Peter Pan, returning panto favourite Ruth Betteridge as Wendy, CBeebies presenter Sid Sloane as Aunt Delilah and comedy actor Ben Langley as Starkey.
The show is written and directed by Theatre Royal pantomime stalwart Richard Gauntlett, who will also play Smee.
'I can't think of a better job to do at Christmas,' says Kevin on a whistlestop visit to the theatre to get measured up for his costume.
'You've got a lot of people who are relative strangers who are thrown together and in that time they've got to produce a musical, drama and comedy and you've only got a certain amount of time to do it. It's a real challenge and I really love it. And when you see the audience enjoying it, it's all worth it.'
While it's Kevin's seventh pantomime, it's also a first for him.
'It's the first time I've played a baddie in panto. I'm really looking forward to it. It's a lot more fun. You don't have to work as hard to be bad – it's hard work to be nice all the time,' he laughs.
Kevin lives in Brighton and says he is looking forward to getting to know Norwich. He's not a complete stranger to the city – he's been to Carrow Road to support his beloved Manchester City. And, across the border, he filmed Corrie in Lowestoft when Curly set out on a mission to find his old supermarket boss and sparring partner Reg Holdsworth who had relocated to the town.
Kevin's wife, Clare, and their children Katy-May, 10, and Grace, eight, will be joining him for Christmas in Norfolk.
'From what I've seen so far Norwich is a beautiful city,' he says. 'I'm a big fan of Nelson, so I'm looking forward to finding out about his Norfolk links.
'And the reputation of the Theatre Royal goes before it. I've heard nothing but brilliant things about it and the people I've met already have been delightful,' he says.
Kevin was sure that performing was his calling from an early age – and the stage was his first love.
'I was very, very single minded about the whole thing,' he says. 'From the age of about seven all I wanted to do was something in performing arts - I was interested in everything theatrical. I joined youth theatres and theatre clubs - I was a very proud member of Manchester Youth Theatre. From there I went on to drama school and then into theatre.
'You speak to kids who say they want to be famous - all I wanted to be was a good jobbing actor,' he says.
Fate, of course, had other ideas. But Kevin never lost sight of his roots and fitted in theatre work when his Corrie schedule allowed.
'I did my first West End when I was 19 or 20 and I played Hamlet at Sheffield Crucible while doing Corrie,' he says.
As he explains, music has played a big part in his life too – so working in musical theatre gives him the chance to combine his two passions and to learn new skills.
'I've got a rock and roll pedigree,' he says. 'I was in a band with Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke [who later found fame with The Smiths] when we were 14 called the Paris Valentinos and I had a band called Kevin Kennedy and the Band of Thieves. Then I went out on my own for a while and was signed by Simon Cowell to BMG and released an album.
'I had never done musical theatre before - it's a different language and set of skills and a whole new way of looking at performing,' he continues. 'I've been very lucky that the people I've worked with have been the best. Brian Conley, who played Caractacus Potts when I was playing the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was a brilliant help to me,' he says.
Kevin has recently come to the end of a long stint in the West End hit We Will Rock You, based on the music of Queen written by Ben Elton.
'It was fun, I played Pop for three years at the Dominion Theatre, which was a brilliant experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it,' says Kevin. 'I've never been involved with a production where the creatives have been so hands on.
'It was brilliant because pretty much every two or three months Ben would change the script to reflect what was happening in the rock and pop world. It made it very interesting and because we kept changing it I was happy to stay in the show for that long.'
Was he a Queen fan when he started out in the show?
'Not really, I was more of a Thin Lizzy fan,' he admits. 'But doing We Will Rock You made me appreciate the vast amount of variety in their music, from perfect pop songs to huge production numbers like Bohemian Rhapsody and everything in between.
'I became a big admirer of them,' he says.
Alongside his theatre work, Kevin has also written an autobiography, The Street to Recovery, documenting his behind-the-scenes struggles with alcohol and drugs during his time in Coronation Street and makes personal appearances. He will be giving a talk at Beccles Library at the invitation of the town's Kulture Shock collectables and book shop on Saturday November 29.
Looking ahead, Kevin says that he would like to do more TV work in the future.
'We had a bit of a laugh with reality TV, but I think that era is coming to an end now which can only be a good thing. Having said that, my girls love X Factor,' he says.
'American companies such as HBO are making quality television and we're getting that over here too with shows like Downton Abbey.'
And he's not ruling out a return to the Rovers for Curly Watts.
'I think there's a rumour every three months that I'm going back and to be honest I've no idea. If that happens, that's brilliant, but if it doesn't, that's life,' he says.
Peter Pan is at Norwich Theatre Royal from December 18 to January 18. Tickets cost £5.50-£21. Box office: 01603 630000/ www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk Kevin Kennedy is appearing at Beccles Library on Saturday November 29 at 6pm. Tickets cost £4. Visit www.kultureshock.co.uk or phone 01502 712922 for information.