John Byrne's play is the first part of his Slab Boys trilogy, about the lives and loves of three young men from Paisley working in the slab room of a carpet factory in the 1950s. I played Phil McCann, a slab boy who spends his day grinding down paint on a marble slab in the slab room. But Phil is a budding artist and has applied to the Glasgow school of Art as his escape, and on the day the play takes place he will find out if he has been succesful.
The Slab Boys is a brilliant play. Its language and characters are rich and dense, and it truly is a Scottish classic. I remember it being an incredibly challenging thing for me and during the course of it I learned so much about acting and allowing yourself to come through a character. It's one of the roles that I'd like to have had another bash at but sadly the years have taken their toll and that will never happen.
Luckily though, John Byrne went on to write other plays for these characters, and I played Phil again the next year in the second instalment of the trilogy Cuttin' A Rug. The third play is Still Life, and in 2008 a fourth play, Nova Scotia, was premiered at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.
The Slab Boys was performed at Dundee Repertory Theatre in early 1987, directed by Alan Lyddiard. the cast included Caroline Paterson (pictured), Robert Carlyle, Vince Friel, Irene Sunters, Alec Westwood and Paul Samson.
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.
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.
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.
Victor and Barry took part in a late night revue at McNally's Cabaret Club as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I remember rushing along there after performances of Trumpets and Raspberries.
Other acts performing in the revue were Arnold Brown, Jerry Sadowitz and Mullarkey and Myers, which was made up of Neil Mullarkey and Mike Myers. Yes, that one.
As soon as I left drama school in 1985 I started rehearsals for this Bordeline Theatre Company production of Dario Fo's play, Trumpets and Raspberries, which opened at the 1985 Edinburgh Festival fringe and then toured throughout Scotland.
I played a variety of small parts. After macbeth, Macbeth Possessed and Passin Glory, it was a little bit boring to be Medic #2 etc, but it was great fun. The two leading roles were played by Andy Gray and Elaine C.Smith. My then wife, Hilary Lyon, was also in the cast, so it was great to be able to be on tour with her.
That's me in the boiler third from the right.
I was allowed time off from my final term at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama to play Malcolm in both Shakespeare's Macbeth and a new play, Macbeth Possessed by Stuart Delves. This was my professional theatre debut, and a completely amazing experience for me.
I was only 20 and still a student and here I was working with these really great Scottish actors on this brilliant play, in a new theatrical venue in Glasgow. Michael Boyd directed and he really helped me open up as an actor in a way that nobody had at drama school, by making me look again and again at the text, and questioning it and my understanding of it. I was so eager to learn and to please Michael and I think in a way he made me the actor I am now. But he shouldn't be blamed!
He insisted on putting back the 'England scene' which is often cut, in which Macduff comes to visit Malcolm in exile and we see a side of Malcolm that is not so pure and innocent as we might have been led to believe.
The play was produced by the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. I had first worked at the Tron as an usher in my first term at college, and then Victor and Barry appeared there in the weekly Gong Shows in the bar. In fact we went on to win the Gong of Gongs, hosted by Robbie Coltrane, and I think it was during that time that Michael noticed me and thought of me for Malcolm.
Maureen Beattie was Lady Macbeth, and she had been in Dundee Rep's theatre-in education company that had come to Monikie Primary School when I was a little boy and made me want to become an actor! And also Siobhan Redmond played Lady Macduff and many years later she was Shona Spurtle in The High Life.