Opening sinkholes beneath residents, exploding cars and crashing prison vans is all very impressive but the heart of Coronation Street comes in the characterisation, the writing and the performance.
At the centre of the biggest week in years of the soap has been Sally Carman, previously a huge focal point of the hate crime storyline which has led into this final showdown for Abi and Corey.
Grief in soaps is hard to get right; there’s the risk of moving it on too fast with the fear of viewers getting too bored or of displaying it with cliches instead of raw reaction to a gut wrenching loss.
Abi has always been one of my favourites – brash, troubled, strong, witty, confrontational, flawed, chaotic and also full of heart. She is everything that makes a character so very Corrie.
But did we fully appreciate what we were being treated to having Sally on our screens until recently?
Her portrayal of a mother’s grief and Abi’s path back to self destruction has been utterly jaw dropping and relatable.
With nuances in her physical performances such as darting eyes, a struggle to maintain control and the way Abi carries herself with a sense of hopelessness are played to a tee.
The dead behind the eyes look, the devastating wails of grief and the surges of murderous anger have all been hit on the perfect note.
Sally is captivating to watch and if we go back through her performances since we first met Abi as Seb’s failing mum, we should have known we had a Corrie legend on our hands.
Abi is a character who could have so easily been a one dimensional bit part; a plot device to build a tragic backstory for Seb.
It’s very easy to portray the struggling, addict, single mum – clearly a result of abusive relationships – as a villain.
And at the start, it was hard to like Abi. In fact, it still can be. Like is different to love and like our friends in real life, sometimes we recognise their flaws and become frustrated by them.
But as an audience we stand by Abi through thick and thin because we know what she is beneath.
The writing, investment and performances of Sally made Abi so much more than a deadbeat mum.
The beauty of Coronation Street is it explores characters like Becky, Kylie and Shona and takes them beyond the ‘poor mums are bad’ rhetoric.
Abi has made many mistakes and we have seen her punish herself and take dramatic steps to try and make it up for them.
When she came to the Street, Seb was not interested and she was accepting of the fact that he may never forgive her.
She fell off the wagon many times, something which Sally portrayed with real angst, and she kicked off many an unnecessary showdown.
She knows the inside of a cell better than her own front room but Sally has managed to create a warm character who we root for in spite of the wrongdoings.
She is also a warrior for justice, even if she doesn’t go about it in the right way. The way that Sally portrays this – from blowing up Ray’s car to waving a gun at Corey – gives the character such an energy that it’s really difficult to be annoyed with her, even if she is in the wrong.
To develop such a character is the work of an actor with a real ability to take writing from a page, add real layer and flair to it and make it mean so much more than simple dialogue.
There is not a scene that Sally plays that is filler or not committed to. Sally will order a pint with the same dedication to her craft as she does playing out a breakdown over losing Seb.
Tonight’s episode in which she screamed and sobbed with real grief proved that she really goes for it, without any sense of self awareness fears.
Cameras forgotten, Sally is clearly in Abi’s mind and in the moment and she wants to deliver the best possible performance for those watching – and those who relate to Abi.
In many dramas, Abi would fall victim to classist writing, which would either villainise her or portray her in a misguided way.
Abi’s main characteristic isn’t her anger, her birlliant humour, her addictions or her terrible mistakes as a mother.
She is a Weatherfield powerhouse and one for the Corrie history books.
When you have a star that makes the likes of David Neilson as Roy Cropper up their game to match her, you know they’re a keeper and we as Corrie fans are lucky that Sally can be adept at anything.
When this chapter ends, we can still look forward to funny Abi, warm Abi, warrior Abi, bitchy Abi, mischievous Abi; the possibilities are endless.
Had it not been for Sally’s performances, the book on a character like Abi would have been closed long before now.
With endless storyline and dialogue opportunities ahead, Abi is now a fixture of the show and hopefully will be for a long time.
A week of action, spectacular stunts and heart stopping twists has been great – but the most memorable moments for me will be Abi standing up to Corey, wailing with grief in the sewers and embracing her hero Roy.
With unreal actors all around her, Sally has carried one of Coronation Street’s biggest storylines to everything the show hoped it would be and more.
And I am positive she will do the same for her next stories too.
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