And so the time time has come and now i face the primal curtain…


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The day has arrived.

We took ownership, however briefly, of the Church Hill Theatre tonight and had our first run, in the studio theatre.  Tomorrow we do our technical run at 10.30.  Dress at 2.30 and open at 7.30.  We’re ready.  The rehearsals on Sunday, last night and tonight have all built on each other and started from a good place.  It’s getting pretty tight all round I have to say.  (Although one of my numbers – Get me to the Church on Time from My Fair Lady happily calls for rumbustuousness and a lack of overall discipline!)

The show with the exception of the Sat Mat is, to all intent and purpose, sold out.  As I predicted. And the Saturday matinee is half sold and will no doubt fill up quickly now as the latecomers realise that when we said we thought the nights would sell out it wasn’t just us making it up.

If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket (and believe me you will count yourself lucky) you are in for a spellbinding evening’s entertainment.

I count myself blessed and privileged beyond belief to be part of this.  Felix McLaughlin who just came up from Cardiff on Sunday to join the final rehearsals was dumbstruck by the depth and quality of talent on show.  I’m not talking about me and my generation here I’m talking about the current and just ‘graduated’ cast who have talent in extreme.  And the directing team, choreographer and musical direction team have to be seen to be believed.

The impact this show has had on me will never be repeated in my life.  I feel sure of that because it is truly a one off, truly a labour of extraordinary love.

My father would not only have got ‘the tingles’ as he called it.  He would have been swept away in a tidal wave of emotion which is exactly what will happen to our audiences because, on the whole, their lives have been so positively influencd by the wonderful work of FCT and this is, after all, the best of FCT.

I keep coming back to the greatest thing of all;  membership is a mere £3 – for the year – which includes the opportunity of being in a 10 night run on the Fringe PLUS a show like this and we’ve never had even so much as a penny of public sector funding.

FCT is immense and this  joyous photo from the rehearsals sums it all up for me.

This is FCT!

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The Mystery of Irma Vep by the Lyceum Theatre Company and Horsecross


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Mark Thomson, The Lyceum’s Artistic Director, often talks before his shows of the need for theatre, and The Lyceum in particular, to entertain.

Now, entertainment comes in many forms.  I’d list The Shining, Apocalypse Now and Hunger among my favourite and most entertaining movies but they are not everyone’s cup of tea; nor are they uplifting.  My wife wouldn’t have described Hunger as entertaining, that’s for sure.  So the notion of entertainment is open to considerable interpretation.

But let’s get this straight from the off; Irma Vep is PURE entertainment.

I laughed until I broke out into a sweat.

I cried and howled with laughter.

I gasped with laughter.

This show is utter class from the first, and I mean the first, moment the curtain rises and we see Andy Gray as he walks onto stage sporting a fake wooden leg and the limitations that places on straightforward movement.  John Cleese would have applauded loudly.

This sets the scene for farce of epic proportions.  Not Pythonesque though.  It’s more in the tradition of Scots Panto.  There are many nods in the direction of Russel Hunter, Walter Carr, John Grieve (is he related to the director I wonder, indeed assume) Francie and Josie and, king of them all, Stanley Baxter.  Which is to heap a great deal of praise on the heads of the quite astonishing performances (in terms of characterisation, timing, energy and wit) of Andy Gray and Steven McNicoll.

Honestly, they will have you rolling in the aisles.

As I said, Panto, and slapstick, is the predominant genre here, although the show’s story is actually a pastiche of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca with a bunch of Hammer House of Horror thrown in for good measure.

I cannot imagine what the script must have read like because it is SO Scottish, so ‘of the people’ and so personal to Gray and McNicoll that you wonder what was on the page.

Each of them plays about four parts but they interchange through very quick changes from scene to scene all night and at times it is breathless and, as a consequence, even more hilarious.

McNicoll’s Jane Twisden is possibly the dominant role (the evil maid in Rebecca) played like the tea lady in Father Ted at maximum volume throughout.  It’s so beautifully crafted and voiced that it leaves you gasping again and again.

Gray’s best moments are in his Lady Enid Hillcrest character which moulds Stanley Baxter and Mark Walliams into an unholy combination.

But seriously, there is not a single moment of weakness in any of the characters they play.

The direction by Ian Grieve is faultless and the wonderful set is a key part of the show with its myriad of doorways from where every character appearance and disappearance heralding yet another belly laugh each time they appear.  It’s ingenious.

I cannot praise this show highly enough.

OK it’s got an odd name but don’t let that put you off.  (It’s an anagram of I’m a Perv by the way!)

Go.  Go now.  No, now.  Don’t think about it.  Just go. No, do.   Do it. Do it now.   Go do it.  Go on.  Go on, go on, go on.  Now.  That’s it.  Get down there.  Now. Yes, now.  Go on now.

My next appearance…


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I will be performing on Saturday night at 7.30 in the Forth Adults Theatre Christmas fundraising show which promises to be a right good Christmas heart warmer.  It’s at Holy Cross Church Hall in Bangholm Loan, but if you want tickets best make contact before the night as it will sell out.

My fellow uber-talents will be singing a range of Christmas crackers, but singing solo scares me too much so, perhaps appropriately I’ve decided to scare the audience in a different way. So I shall be debuting a freaky ghost story that is a real chiller.

I’m shitting myself just thinking about it.

No one will ever forgive us, by The National Theatre of Scotland at The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh


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Well.

Here’s a one.

I have to declare two interests from the outset.

I am a Catholic.

My cousin (Susan Vidler) is in this play.

So I’m biased.

Paul Higgins, may be the most remarkable new stage-writing talent since Gregory Burke.  It really is written brilliantly, flowing along at 100 miles an hour packed with hilarious one liners, and I believe it’s autobiographical. (Actually it’s very unfair of me to heap this comparative praise on Paul Higgins given my lack of comparative insight; but if he isn’t the best then Scottish Theatre is absolutely booming.)

I urge you to see this play before it is too late. (It was pretty much sold out on a dreich Tuesday in late November.)

It’s a fantastic smorgasbord of Scottishness. As the nation of doom we like to dwell on the dark side and this does it magnificently. I honestly have never encountered a script, in film or on stage, that leaps like Bambi on steroids, between bleak nihilism and outrageous humour, line by line, quite as well as this.

It is remarkable.

The main theme centres on belief 9or lack of it). I suppose the key character in the five person cast is the youngest son who has opted out of the seminary (or is that safe haven?) that he has studied at for seven years because he has become atheistic. Is there a God? Is there a Catholic God (OMG)? Is there a point? Why should I coexist with you? Have I a future?

But, at the gleaming, glowing, pulsating, dangerous centre of it all is the horrific patriarch, Gary Lewis. What a performance. The drunk, child-beating, wife-hating (but actually not particularly misogynistic) husband engulfs the stage with his presence.

It is massive.

The audience howled with tears and laughter and, for me, it was another triumphant National Theatre of Scotland performance. I’ve seen three this year in three different theatres.

They all demonstrated our brilliance.

“The tingles”


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For those of you that know my father you will know that he used this expression a lot when describing events and moments that hit the spot and created a real emotional resonance. Today I had “the tingles” as we completed our second rehearsal for the FCT 30th Anniversary Show.

We’d learned the words and melody of “With This Life of Mine” from the Matchgirls on Friday night and today we blocked and rehearsed the movement (really exciting stuff from Jill) and brought the whole thing together.

It was really quite superb, particularly with singing coach, Joyce’s, interpretation and rigour, and her addition of harmonies

Then a new dimension was introduced.

Liam Sinclair, one of the directors, made us think about the point of it and where it fitted into FCT’s huge canon of work. The 20 minutes he took at the end of the rehearsal turned something that was great into something that is, and will be, utterly compelling, truly moving and peerless.

The way he did it left me breathless.

Be warned. There will be tears. (Especially from my sister Jane.).

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Well, 20 plus years later, I’m back on the stage with FCT for their thirtieth anniversary show next April. First rehearsal tonight and I was given a pretty safe solo part. There are some astounding talents in the show. Some of the male leads have incredible voices. Just as well as this is the first song I have to learn. It’s going to be a major challenge but I’m looking forward to it.

We’ve all agreed that I should seek sponsorship from Imodium.

You’re having a laugh


Please note this image has been retouched to protect the innocent behind me...

Please note this image has been retouched to protect the innocent behind me...

Today I did something I haven’t done for over 20 years.

I auditioned for a show. With FCT (Forth Children’s Theatre) to be precise.

I was in the first ever cast as a 16 year old, 30 years ago, and the show that FCT is putting on next spring (Easter 2009) is ostensibly a “Now that’s what I call FCT” pick of the last 30 years.

So, all current and past cast and crew were called to Leith Academy at 9.30 this morning where we played a game of zip, zap, boing as a warm up, engaged in some improvisation and then learned a dance, correction, the other 50 learned a dance.

I crashed and bashed about like a fool.

I was surrounded by kids from aged 10 through their teens and a bunch of adults who’d come back for this show and every single one of them picked the dance up more or less effortlessly, so that made my abjectness all the more awful and apparent. And the worst thing was that none of them knew me well enough to jeer, send me home packing or make videos and post it to their friends.

For those of you that had to endure this dreadful experience I unreservedly apologise. (It might have scarred some of them for life.)

To say I had seven left feet would be a huge and unneccessary compliment. I know I was rank. Nevertheless, the dancing was part of the audition. Thereafter we learned a song from The Matchgirls – an FCT classic as the Director, Vic called it – and we then had to both dance and perform the song in small groups of 8 to an X Factor type auditions panel.

Well, the judging panel must have thought someone had cross-bred John Cleese with Mr Magoo and thrown in a bit of Dumbo for good measure. I was utterly rank. I was as graceful as a Hippo giving birth, having just been dropped on a trampoline from the top of a tower block.

I truly underachieved.

But, you know what, I think it went quite well, considering.

My singing was OK, although it felt like I had ingested three packets of Imodium 30 seconds before I was due to sing. I had forgotten quite how stomach-churningly terrifying auditions can be, but hey, it’s the same for everyone I suppose.

Anyway they called me back for a second audition tomorrow.

I think there’s a part for a clown going.