Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Ian Mercer
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Ian's drama crisis

Interview with Ian Mercer in This is Lancashire, 8 November 2001

Former Coronation Street star Ian Mercer has criticised the standard of drama on British television.

Bolton audiences get the chance to see the actor best known for his portrayal of Gary Mallet in the uncharacteristic surroundings at the Lowry Theatre, from November 15 to 17 in a "love story between young men from different backgrounds".

Ian describes the part as "soul food", saying that the play is "beautifully written" unlike much of the drama currently featuring on television.

He said: "There is not a lot of good television going on at the moment. There is nothing I would want to be in.

"What I would like to see is dramas being screened because of the storyline and writing, not because of who they star. Television bosses are patronising their audience. Most dramas are being made as vehicles for people who are already stars, instead of focusing on good stories.

"For much of television there is less and less time for rehearsal so you are asked to be yourself for a lot of the time. There is no room for exploration of a character. But this play is about people. It is beautifully written and I feel like I am doing something worthwhile."

Ian quit Coronation Street little more than a year ago, and is set to appear in an English Touring Theatre world premiere production of a new Peter Gill play, The York Realist. He revealed how the new play has reunited him with his "stage mother" from the Bolton Octagon.

Ian last appeared with co-star Dinner Ladies' Anne Reid on stage together at the Octagon as mother and son in Billy Liar. That was in 1986, and Ian, best known for his appearance as Gary Mallet in Coronation Street, is still waiting for an invite back to the town. He said: "It is great because I am back working with Anne Reid, who appeared as my mother in Billy Liar at Bolton Octagon in 1986. I have appeared at the Octagon a few times, and would like to again -- but I have not been invited back since."

Ian is from Oldham and was plucked from the obscurity of the amateur stage. He said: "From that point of view I have had no professional training. I never expected to end up in the position I am in. I have to thank Coronation Street for a lot of things -- not least because the programme has made me financially secure. That allows me to come out and choose what I want to do next.

"It is also a great ice breaker, particularly in London where everyone is so clinical and cool. On the tube I invariably get someone approaching me, which helps me out with conversation."

Quitting the soap was still a big decision for the actor, who has since appeared in a Kenneth Branagh film, Shackleton, due to be screened as a New Year blockbuster on January 2 and 3.

He said: "I have not set out to purposely change people's perception of me. First, I wanted to work and earn some money, and also do something interesting.

"When you quit a programme like Coronation Street it is easy to panic. You can go down the commercial pantomime route but I am not that kind of actor."

People can see what kind of actor Ian is when he comes to the Lowry with The York Realist from November 15 to 17. Tickets are from 0161 876 2000.

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