Pantomime is huge in Scotland. And by pantomime I don't mean people with white faces pretending to walk into winds. I mean panto, with men dressed up as women and they're behind you and variety acts appearing for very tenous reasons. If you don't know, then please go and google it.
Anyway, in the late eighties, as the boom in alternative cabaret raged, the Tron theatre in Glasgow decided to start doing alternative pantos. The poster byline for this version of Sleeping Beauty was 'Young, Gifted, Asleep'. It was written by Craig Fergusson (later the talk show sensation in the States) and Peter Capaldi. It premiered at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow in December 1986 with Forbes Masson and I taking our Victor and Barry characters and turning them into the pantomime dames, Victoria and Barathea. It was my first time in drag. I am not a pretty girl.
Scottish Television very kindly kept on employing me and asked me to join their soap opera Take The High Road to play evil woodcutter Jim Hunter.
It was a really good way to learn very fast about acting for the camera and also for dealing with dialogue and story lines that weren't always plausible!
The show was shot at the Gateway studios in Edinburgh, and each recording day we had to do the scenes as live, meaning that if we made a mistake we had to go back to the beginning. Also we had to finish by a certain time because the equipment or the signal was used for the nightly news (I didn't understand it at the time either). Anyway, this meant that there was always a tension to get it right and do it fast.
One day we were against the clock and I was in a scene in Mr and Mrs Blair's living room. There was some glare from the pictures hanging on the walls and so to avoid it someone placed tangerines from the fruit bowl under the pictures so they would angle up a bit. Then the scene started and Mr Blair came in rather angry, slammed the door, and loads of tangerines shot out from behind the pictures. It was insane.
They decided to live with a bit of glare!
And still more.....
In 1986, in the middle of filming Shadow of the Stone, I did a one night only Victor and Barry show at the Guilded Balloon during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Also made by Scottish Television for the ITV network, Shadow of the Stone is a six-part series about a girl and her alter ego from a century ago who had been burned at the stake as a witch. I played her boyfriend Tom, her boyfriend in both time zones.
Shirley Henderson made her professional debut in this series, directed by Leonard White. I remember that every time I was mentioned in the script it said I was 'lurking'. I also remember meeting for the part with Leonard and assuring him that I could sail. Actually the only sailing I had done was with the Boy Scouts at Monikie Reservoir years before, but luckily on the day I had to sail in the show it was the calmest and most windless day ever, so much so that it was actually really difficult for me to capsize my little dinghy!
Below are all the episodes. The last one is the most hilarious as it includes my rescue at sea.
Taggart, was my first big TV role. I played Jamie, a boy who works in a chemist's shop who is wrongfully suspected of murder. Taggart was the name of the Glasgow detective played by Mark McManus, and the show is still running in the UK.
I was so excited when I got this part. It was the first time I had done any real acting on TV, and it was the beginning of quite a run of shows I did for Scottish television. I remember finding it really hard to play a young Scottish boy because I'd just come out of drama school and had never played any character in my own voice.
The thing about being the chief suspect in a Taggart in those days was that everyone knew you couldn't really be the murderer because you were being focussed on too much and given too much screen time. Eventually in the last part of the third episode the chief suspect would be exonerated and there would be a mad dash to catch the real killer, who of course had been featured in the previous episodes but you were lead to believe he (or she in my case) was a red herring.
Taggart saw my first TV nude scene. I remember being in the studios at Cowcaddens in Glasgow (which were being razed to the ground in front of my very eyes when I stayed in an apartment building opposite them when we performed The Bacchae there in 2007) and when the time came for me to disrobe, the producer, Robert Love, made an announcement from the galley saying that as I was about to show my pudendum there would be a closed set. I didn't even know I had a pudendum. (Robert is a very natty man, and we once joked that he and Victor and Barry had a time-share cravatte scheme!
Mr Government was a new play by Stuart Paterson about life in a rural community in Ayrshire.
I played Donal, a boy with learning difficulties, and I remember that this was the first time that I actually understood acting. I don't know how to describe it. Something clicked, or loosened up, or I let go in some way. Whatever, one day on stage, I just sort of had a breakthough and realised that I could inhabit this person and it wasn't really like the acting I had been doing or had thought I had to do up to that point. I just felt that something opened inside me and I was more connected to the character. So I have a special fondness for this play and the experience I had. I got to work with great Scottish actresses like Caroline Paterson and Juliet Cadzow, and again with Martin Black who had been in Macbeth.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams was the second play in my Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh repertory season.
I just love this play, and am so glad that I got to know it intimately at such a young age. I played two parts - the Young Collector and the Doctor who takes Blanche away at the end.
I remember the first preview we did. There was a custom that first preview audiences got in for free, so it was a really excited and exciteable crowd. When I came on as the Young Collector people actually whistled, and when Blanche kissed me the place went nuts!
Every night as soon as I had been kissed by Blanche, who was played by Vivien Heilbron, I rushed upstairs to my dressing room and began the startling transformation into the Doctor. I really went to town: glasses, white hair, lines, moustache, the lot. All my make-up training at RSAMD was well-used. Check it out! Once, when one of the other actors was stuck on the motorway from Glasgiw, I had to play Pablo too!
Tartuffe is a great play by Moliere, and this production, my first as part of a season of plays at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, was a new Scots adaptation by the brilliant poet and playwright Liz Lochead.
I played the young lover, Valere, and here I am pictured with Gerda Stevenson. I was so excited to work at the Lyceum and be a part of a repertory company, and be in such a great play.
The Ugly Duckling was a pantomime for Borderline Theatre Company performed at the Magnum Centre, Irvine. I played Andy, who befriended the eponymous duck and dreamed of becoming a clown at the circus.
Forbes Masson, my Victor and Barry cohort, and another college friend Lousie Beattie, were the baddies, and Jenny McCrindle who I went on to work with in Sleeping Beauty and The High Life was the duck.
My biggest memory of this, aside from the wall of noise of the screaming children during each show, was getting up at the crack in the freezing Glasgow winter to get into a van and travel down to Irvine each morning. I was only out of drama school six months and already I was a moaning actor! But it is a real killer schedule. Three shows a day some days, so you sometimes came onstage and wondered if you had already done the scene you were about to do and therefore were about to repeat yourself, or had you just done it twice before that day in the previous two shows!!
I also remember a hotel in Irvine where we used to go to that had a water flume that was used as a carrot to get through that third show some nights.