Trouble has always followed Sharon Bentley (Tracie Bennett) since she first arrived on Coronation Street back in 1982, and it’s no different almost 40 years later as the former teen tearaway is back with a secret agenda – she’s working for her nephew Harvey Gaskell (Will Mellor) to track down Leanne Battersby (Jane Danson) and stop her testifying against the drug dealer in his upcoming trial.
The surprise twist was revealed almost a week after Sharon stunned ex-foster mum Rita Tanner (Barbara Knox) by showing up 22 years after they fell out, claiming she wanted to make amends. But viewers now know shift Shaz wants info on where Lee and her family are hiding out after they exposed a big-time drug dealing network. It’s dark territory for Corrie, which is precisely the reason the acclaimed Bennett agreed to come back to where her career began.
“Why bring Sharon back and waste it?” says the actress, speaking to RadioTimes.com and other press. “I wanted to do it because the storyline was so dark. Sharon was always complex and I’m interested in people’s flaws, if you just play nice all the time that’s fine but to see the flaws of a human being who is under pressure and has all this guilt and a sense of duty to their family – it was all whirring in my head, and after a year of not doing much I wanted to get my acting chops back!”
Acting chops is something Bennett has in abundance – she has become one of theatre’s foremost leading ladies in the West End and on Broadway, winning two Olivier Awards and a nomination for a prestigious Tony for playing Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, the play adapted for the big screen as Judy, for which Renee Zellwegger bagged an Oscar. Bennett has won countless public and critical plaudits in the likes of Hairspray, Les Miserables, Mame and Follies.
Being so in demand meant Corrie tried to secure Bennett 18 months ago. “It’s like a dance,” she explains. “They don’t know if you’re available so they put feelers out. If I’m in a long-running show for two years then I can’t get out of it, so they asked quite early at which point they had a couple of storylines in mind. Then the pandemic happened but by September 2020 we had the dates tied down to me starting around February this year.”
Sharon Gaskell, as she was originally, was a handful when Rita and late husband Len Fairclough took her in all those decades ago, and she ruffled feathers during her early days on the cobbles with her gobby attitude and manipulative, maneating ways, famously trying to break up the first marriage of Gail Rodwell (Helen Worth) to heart-throb Brian Tilsley.
“I was trying to remember what happened and Helen thought Sharon had something going with Gail’s son Nick! I had to say ‘No, it was Brian, babe!’ I didn’t watch old clips to remind me of Sharon, I just tried to remember the essence of her: she’s gobby, impulsive, has a good heart and if she’s horrible it’s because she has her own kind of logic.
“Yes, she sold the Kabin after Rita gave it to her as a wedding present, but Sharon didn’t think there was anything wrong with that because it was hers to give away! She was young and daft back then but she’s not anymore.
“We see Sharon under threat now because she’s got this job to do for her nephew, who she promised her brother Wayne on his deathbed she’d look out for. Harvey is emotionally blackmailing her into helping him to use her connections in Weatherfield to get him out of jail. Sharon knew Leanne well, she worked with in the Kabin when I came back in 1999. They clashed but I didn’t remember them being that unfriendly – but it turns out they were!
“So she is manipulating but the audience will be questioning when she’s lying and when she’s being honest. It’s really complex and it’s my job to make it not look like that, but it’s a brilliant challenge and I’m skipping into work because I’ve always loved Corrie.”
Bennett promises an interesting arc for her alter ego as the dynamic plot thickens and draws in several unsuspecting characters, and hints she’s open to her third stint on the cobbles being extended, albeit dependent on what happens to the theatre industry as the world emerges out of lockdown.
“There are things beyond my control but they’re talking about whether they might want me to stay,” she divulges. “It’s up to them. They have expressed that so we’ll see. If the public hate me that might be it, but that’s acting!”