Roadside manner: Sarah Lancashire plays a district nurse in Where The Heart Is

Nursing ambition

The nation knows her as Raquel, the bubbly barmaid from Coronation Street, but now Sarah Lancashire is swapping optics for stethoscopes to play a district nurse in ITV's new drama Where The Heart Is. Question is, will she make the grade? Words: Fraser Massey

‘Hmrtht'ui with skirts‘ the tabloids cheerin predicted when word broke on [TV networks new ratings contender ll’ltt're The Hmrt ls. They weren‘t wrong either except perhaps in feeling so chirpy about the prospect.

'l’he six-patter has iLVQ 1;. formula drama written all over it. Take a soap star. (‘orrie's Sarah Lancashire this time. rather than Iz'ustlimlw Nick Berry. put them in uniform and place them in a rural community. throw in a few heartstring- tugging life and death storylines. slap the whole thing in the peak family viewing mid-Sunday evening slot. and just to make sure nobody has missed what you‘re trying to do. slip the word ‘heart' somewhere in the title.

How can they go wrong'.’ l'l‘V is clearly not as confident as they might be. Worried that Lancashire may not have the strength to carry the show on her own. they‘ve given her another former Sunday night family viewing favourite Pam Ferris (Ma Larkin from the Darling But/s ()f May) as co-star. The pair play sisters-in-law who work as district nurses in the fictional West Yorkshire town of Skelthwaite.

Lancashire deserves her chance. Coronation Street

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has struggled to find its way since she qtiit as Raquel in November. The dash of post—modernist irony she brought to what would otherwise have been a stereotypical bimbo barmaid role. turned the character into a 90s soap icon. (‘ertainly the Rovers' Return has never been the satne without her.

She‘s justifiably proud of her work in the soap. ‘We live in a society where the more feminine you are the more scoffed at you are.‘ she explains. ‘So i enjoyed pushing the playing of Raquel to the limit.’ she says.

Lancashire is equally pleased to have left Raquel behind though. ‘All TV characters have a shelf life and hers was about to expire.‘ she says. ‘C‘reatively the role was very confined.‘

Now Lancashire is looking forward to getting into uniform and doing the rounds in Skelthwaite. "l‘here’s a quality in Ashley l’haroah’s scripts for ll’lm‘v T/lt’ Heart Is that I couldn’t resist.’ she says.

l’haroah. who cut his teeth on [zitstlftttt’t'tiv, ('(tsitu/tv and Silent Witness actually talks a better script than he

writes. l’ar from being a mirror image of Heart/wit. he sees his new series as a further blow against the escapism of much TV drama. 'So much telly is about car chases and guns. which the vast majority of its know nothing about] he says. ‘I wanted to write about things that happen to everybody. You can have comedy. pathos and bleakness all in one episode. Life is like that.‘

l’haroah says be researched his scripts by visiting district nurses in Yorkshire towns. "l‘he thing l noticed more than anything was how much they laughed when they were together. ev en though their work was harrowing at times and boring at others.‘ he says. "l‘hey laughed from dawn until dusk. i think their laughter is a way of coping with what they have to deal with. There is a lot of unpleasantness and it is far from glamorous. It is not like lz'lx’.‘

Where The Heart Is starts on Sun 6 Apr, on Scottish Television at 8pm.

Macbeth On The Estate BBCZ, SApr, 10pm.

Theatre has always been rather better at taking art to socially deprived communities; television only bothers to beat its way through the urban jungle when there's a gritty documentary to be made about heroin abuse or welfare mothers. However, in 1994 cameras were on hand in Birmingham's Ladywood estate to record a community drama project directed by Michael Bogdanov, who worked with residents to dramatise well known bits of Shakespeare. Whatever the purpose behind the project, be secured some remarkable performances.

With Macbeth On The Estate, the documentary's director Penny Woolcock returned to Ladywood with a cast of professional actors to film a jeans-and-T—shirts version of the Scottish play. Extras and minor characters were played by the residents, many of whom appeared in the original documentary.

The stop-frame opening credits which introduce the key players show how badly this wants to be hip and youthful, a kind of Shakespearian Trainspotting Thanespotting, perhaps. In fact, Susan Vidler, who appeared in the movie version of Irvine Welsh's novel, plays Lady Macbeth as a Valium-popping Scottish queen on a Brummie estate.

Although pruned, the words are pretty much as Shakespeare wrote them, but the action is translated from a castle to a council flat. Macbeth is the new gangster on the block who wages a turf war which leads him to murder his rivals and closest associates, Duncan and Banquo. Drugs are hinted at, though not explicitly stated as the reason for the violence.

James Frain makes an interesting and complex Macbeth, though many of the other characters are played as one-dimensional yobs for whom Shakespearian verse is hardly a first language. Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet has already proved that the Bard can be updated for The Kids while keeping the language intact, though the movie’s sense of hyper- realism perhaps helps audiences suspend disbelief. Macbeth is an interesting project, but the gap between the flowery language and bleak urban setting serve as a constant reminder of how contrived an idea it really is. (Eddie Gibb)

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Bard as nails: James Frain and Susan Vidler in Macbeth On The Estate