Category Archives: INTERVIEWS

INTERVIEW: Paul Grant-Reason on playing his idol George Michael

The winner of 2017 ‘Best Male Tribute Act’ is set to appear as George Michael after 18 years of performing as Robbie Williams – and his show comes to Glasgow in November.

Award-winning performer Paul Grant-Reason will play his personal icon George Michael in the UK tour of ‘Beyond Faith’, celebrating 30 years of FAITH, which launched George’s incredible solo career. Glasgow Theatre Blog had the chance to talk to Paul about the show.

The show is coming to Glasgow’s Eastwood Park Theatre on 17th November 2017 and will take you back to ‘Wham Days’ and ‘Beyond FAITH’ to all the incredible number ones from George’s later catalogue. A real must for all George fans, bringing the passion and energy of George in the 80s and beyond, that made him such a loved, global megastar.

Tickets are priced at £22.50 and if you bring a group of ten people, one person can go free. Available now: www.eastwoodparktheatre.co.uk/boxoffice

Why do you think George’s music still has such an enduring appeal?

He was just born with an incredible gift for melody. Even the early Wham songs that were viewed as throw away, fun pop at the time are seen as classics. He continued to write and produce songs that both touch people and make them want to dance – a rare talent .

How long has it taken for you to perfect your portrayal of George.

My career started professionally in the same year that Faith was released. I was massively influenced by George then, and we covered many of his songs at the time. Although I’ve been involved with paying tribute to other artistes over the years, George has always been my biggest influence as a singer. I guess I’ve spent all of my professional life studying him and finally putting a show on to celebrate his legacy has been a life’s dream. Hard work, but a real joy to keep this music out there for fans like me.

Tell us what we can expect from the show?

We have an incredible band and singers, visuals from his long career and all his biggest hits. I myself aim to capture the late 80s George, but the show takes a loving and fun look at his whole, incredible legacy.

Do you find audiences differ as you travel around the country? 

Depends on the venue, but out job is to bring people what they want. We are lucky that if people are coming to see us, they want what we want: to celebrate this great icon and his music. That travels as a feeling wherever you go.

How do you keep the show fresh when you’re touring?

We keep a similar formula but swap the odd song around. We all love to play and perform and this music is a real gift. It’s so good to perform that we are always on 110% and we feed off the crowds reacting to the songs they love.

What’s your personal favourite song to perform?

It varies from night to night. Praying For Time would have to be up there as a powerful song that’s great to sing and a timeless message .

What song gets the biggest reaction every night?

With so many classics it’s hard to say. You struggle to beat the buzz of a Wham song though.

What’s next for 2017 and beyond?

We’re are enjoying seeing the amount of love there was for George and his music. He knew how much his fans loved him in his life and he is very missed by myself and millions of others. We will play this music with the passion and attention to detail that has taken so much work and deliver a fitting and fun tribute to our hero, George Michael.

At Eastwood Park Theatre on 17th November 2017 ticket details above.

INTERVIEW: Gus Boyd of the Police/Sting Show talks about their latest tour

The ex-members of Hotel California, KT Tunstall and Fish’s bands, return to the touring circuit with this new exciting project, The Police Sting Show. Touring Scotland throughout October and November and finishing this year’s tour at Eastwood Park Theatre on Saturday 25 November, the show features re-worked, fresh versions of all the iconic Police and Sting solo album songs in a 100-minute show featuring an acoustic Sting section. 

Gus Boyd, who performs as Sting, talks about what we can expect and what’s coming up next year. 

Why do you think the Police’s music still has such an enduring appeal?

Basically, because they are great timeless songs that have lasted that initial audience generation and being listened and liked by our children’s generation.

How long has it taken for you to perfect your portrayal of Sting/The Police?

I started working stripping back the songs on acoustic guitar just under two years ago.

Added in a drummer and bass player 18 months ago and we created our own interpretations and style for the 24 songs that we currently play.

Tell us what we can expect from the show?

Not copies of the songs but our own style and fresh take, but still retaining the integrity and the song message.

Do you find audiences differ as you travel around the country?

They are all fans of The Police and Sting Music but do differ in age demographic especially in the regional areas.

It’s great to see the young generation enjoying the songs alongside people of their parents ages!

The Police/Sting Show will be at Eastwood Park Theatre on 25 November at 7.30pm as part of the UK tour.

More info at: https://www.eastwoodparktheatre.co.uk/article/9002/The-Police-Sting-Show

INTERVIEW: Barrie Hunter on brand new musical The Sunshine Ghost currently touring Scotland

New musical The Sunshine Ghost tells the comic story of the acquisition of Castle MacKinnon by a love-struck billionaire and property tycoon, Glen Duval, for his fiancé, Astrobeth – Hollywood’s favourite astrologer. Brought stone by stone from a remote rocky outcrop on a small Scottish Island all the way to Naples, Florida, they soon discover that the castle’s previous owner has not quite ‘left’ the building… 

Tell us a little bit about the musical and your role…

My name is Barrie Hunter, and I play the role of Glen Duval, a 1950’s American billionaire property tycoon in The Sunshine Ghost. He has promised to move an old Scottish castle from Scotland to the US to win the affection and the hand in  marriage of Astrobeth, a celebrity radio clairvoyant. Little does he know there is a spiritual entity from the past who’s not quite ready to give up his ancestral seat.

Barrie Hunter (left)

Tell me about life backstage.

Life backstage on tour is a moveable feast, as no two venues are the same, so you cut your cloth accordingly, depending on how much room you have on and offstage/dressing room situations/where you can grab some dinner etc. It’s a daily adventure!

Performing in musicals can be physically demanding, how do you keep your performance fresh/ look after yourself when you have to be on top form on stage every night?

Looking after yourself whilst touring is vital – I rest up whenever I can, take on lots of water, and if we go for a small refreshment after, it’s good if you can find a place that’s not too noisy, as talking over loud environments is a sure-fire way to damage you vocally. This show is a big sing for all of us, as there are only five actors and a musician singing the whole show (23 numbers!), and it’s technically quite tricky too at times – lots of lovely harmonies and the like-so we have to be on it all the time!

Keeping the show fresh is a fairly easy ask, especially on a job like this, as it’s a fairly quick process to get it up and running, and the tour is done and dusted within a month, so there’s no time for it to get stale! It’s always useful to remember that every audience is seeing the show for the first time, so that helps too.

Can we go back a bit and talk about what inspired you to become a performer and the path you took to become one?

I was inspired to be an actor after getting involved with my local youth theatre, Harlequin, on the south side of Glasgow. I then moved on to Giffnock Theatre Players, doing plays, and subsequently auditioned (twice!), for the RSAMD (now RCS), and graduated from there 22 years ago…wow, I’m old. Since then, I have worked in theatre, doing plays, musicals, pantos (this is my 7th year as the Perth Theatre Dame), and done the usual bits of telly, radio etc.

Any advice for aspiring performers?

The advice I would give to aspiring actors would be: be punctual, do your research, listen to others, and whatever you may be doing, just try to find the truth of it-these things really help me, and others, in getting the job done.

The Sunshine Ghost - eoincarey_THEPALMER (2)

Image by Eoin Carey

Finally, why should people come along to see the show?

Folk should come along to The Sunshine Ghost because they will have a hoot watching a very funny show with lots of lovely music being performed by a bunch of folk who really know what they’re doing…and me! Oh, and we have a very shiny floor and flashing lights and ladders and crates and…Ach, just come along and you’ll find out for yourself…

The Sunshine Ghost is now on tour in Scotland and will be at Eastwood Park Theatre on Thursday 19 October 2017 at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at £17 standard and £15 concession. If you bring a group of ten people one person goes free.

More info here: https://www.eastwoodparktheatre.co.uk/article/9044/The-Sunshine-Ghost#booknow

INTERVIEW: Phil Hardie circus performer & entertainer on his original take on the Frankenstein tale

I had the chance this week to catch up with renowned circus performer Phil Hardie just as he embarks on a tour with his original take on the Frankenstein story: Welcome My Son.

Frankenstein is one of the best-known works in the literary world, tell us about your approach to telling this story in a new way in Welcome My Son.

The Frankenstein story is timeless. The moral and ethical issues it brings up surrounding humans playing God have not only remained relevant but have in many ways become more acute. With Welcome my Son I wanted to focus on the issue of neglect and how it destroys both parties in the relationship. How in the absence of love a human will turn to hate perhaps as the only possible alternative, but also how our apparent obsession to master control over the natural world can lead to our own isolation and ultimately our demise.

Tell us about your role…

I play both Frankenstein and his Creature. I wanted to give the Creature and the neglect he suffers real substance and ultimately I have sought to cast Frankenstein as the true ‘monster’ as it is his selfish neglect that creates a cycle of destruction.

How much preparation and rehearsal time did you get before the tour started?

The final rehearsal period has felt very short. I developed the show throughout June working over three weeks with my creative team. However, before the tour we have had just three days to re-rehears the piece and get it tour ready.

How has the work been received so far, has it been different in different locations?

I have performed the first development/version of the show in three different locations, Edinburgh, Banchory and Dumfries. Generally, I think it has been very well received every time. However, my use of dialogue and more traditional theatre acting in such a physically driven piece has had a mixed response. Some people would like to keep these elements separate from one another it would appear while, gladly for me, some are happy to see the genres mixed together. As we set off on the first dates of the tour, I hope that the show is well received but that is still to be discovered.

The amount of physicality in your work is astonishing, and I can image it makes huge demands on your body, how do you keep your performance fresh/look after yourself when you’re having to travel as well as perform on stage at night?

The physical demands of the show are punishing. Eating well and keeping well hydrated are key. For years now, I have started every day with a pint of warm water with half a lemon squeezed into it. It really helps to wake up all your systems. Of course coffee comes immediately afterwards. Obviously it’s critical that I warm up and stretch well before and after each performance. On tour I have a fantastic technical team to support me and they help to minimise the amount of physical work I do with regards to load in, rigging the equipment and setting up the stage in order that I am physically ‘fresh’ for the performance.

Can we go back a bit and talk about what inspired you to become a performer and the path you took to become one?

I have a very profound and clear memory of going to see a traditional ‘Big Top’ circus when I was about four or five years old. It included animals, tigers, zebras, etc. I had no interest in any of this but the clowns that segued each performance captivated me and the acrobats; both aerial and floor simply blew my mind. I remember saying to my parents as we left that I wanted to be an acrobat and I made them hang around just to see if we could catch a glimpse of the performers back stage…we didn’t. In honesty it’s not that I obsessed over this but I have always loved testing myself physically and throughout my life I’ve pursued street skating, skiing, climbing, basically any sport that you’re competing against yourself. I began performing professionally using circus arts in my first year of art school and have continued ever since. I’ve used juggling, balance art, clowning and character acting and acrobatics to create performances and shows since the year 2000. In the end I felt I needed to push myself to try and create a full-length show which brings all this experience together.

Any advice for aspiring performers?

My advice for aspiring performers is deliver your performance with uncompromising conviction and your audience will be drawn in.

Finally, why should people come along to see the work? 

Come and see my show because it is a new approach to creating theatre which draws on circus techniques as heavily as it does physical and traditional theatre. It is, I hope, a true collaboration of the performing arts. You can see it at Platform in Glasgow on Monday (9 October 2017) and the rest of the tour dates can be found below:

INTERVIEW: LOCAL TALENT CHRISTOPHER JORDAN-MARSHALL MAKES WEST END DEBUT IN MAMMA MIA!

It seems like a short while ago I saw you as a student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland starring as the Emcee in Cabaret. Tell us what happened between then and starring in the West End.

Ahhhh amazing, you got to see Cabaret! Definitely one of my favourite parts I ever got to play. So, round about that same time I also signed with a London agent and started to get auditions coming through, including auditions for Mamma Mia! in London and for the tour. I didn’t get past the first round and just kind of forgot about it. I graduated in July 2016, and almost immediately booked my first professional job in London, Floyd Collins at the Wiltons Music Hall. Once that finished, I was back in Scotland at the Tron Theatre for Christmas, in the The Snaw Queen, followed immediately after by Still Game:Live at The SSE Hydro. Luckily, I hadn’t really stopped, and so made the move back to London to start auditioning again. Cut to two months later, and a few rounds of auditions for Mamma Mia! again, and suddenly I was going to be Sky in the West End!

Georgina Castle & Christopher Jordan-Marshall as Sophie and Sky
London Cast 2017/2018

Tell us how you felt when you got the call to say you’d be making your professional West End debut.

Well it was about a week after the finals for Mamma Mia!, and I was sort of waiting to hear about a couple of things. When my agent phoned, she said ‘So, do you want some good news?’ and I’m pretty sure I swore at her down the phone and yelled a bit. I was honestly jumping about my house, totally ecstatic. Cliché as it is, this was something I had been wanting and dreaming of ever since I was little and so for that dream to become a reality at the age of 22 is just really special for me. I’m grateful every day.

How are you enjoying playing Sky?

It’s bloody brilliant! I’m honestly having such a good time. Everyone that works at the Novello, the cast, creatives and crew are an absolute joy to work with, and there is a total family vibe amongst us all. We get such amazing audiences every night, and even though it’s been running in the West End for 18 years, there is still something really fresh and new about our cast which is so exciting. When we first took over in June, we performed a slot at West End Live, which is sort of a concert weekend in Trafalgar Square where musicals all around the UK and in central London perform. That was a pretty special moment, singing and dancing an Abba megamix to thousands of people.

Christopher Jordan-Marshall as Sky (front centre)

What do you think makes Mamma Mia! so enduringly popular?

There are so many elements I think. The songs come first obviously. You get the sexiness of things like Gimme Gimme! and Voulez Vous, and then also the heart from songs like Slipping Through My Fingers and The Winner Takes It All. Then you have the story which interweaves these songs seamlessly in a way that lots of jukebox musicals are unable to do. It’s a story about mothers and daughters, about strong female friendship, and about empowerment of women. Certainly back when it was first conceived, there wouldn’t have been many stories like it, and only really now is that starting to change. It’s just such an awesomely feel good show, which makes every audience member leave with a huge grin on their face. They get to escape to a beautiful Greek island for two and half hours, what’s not to love?! People need escape like that more than ever these days, so I’m glad I can contribute to that.

What is life like backstage at the Novello?

Well I’m lucky enough to get a dressing room to myself next to the stage on the ground floor. It’s not a huge room, so I tend to keep the door wedged open and slowly over time it has sort of changed into a mini green room for the other company members to chill in when they aren’t needed on stage. I have a bit of time in between the things I’m involved in on stage so I’m happy for the chat. Usually backstage totally runs like clockwork, everyone knows exactly where they are supposed to be but every so often it becomes a bit hectic. We have two large set pieces that are moved around on stage with handles to create different scenes and environments. One Saturday one of the handles broke off and the pieces couldn’t move. We had to completely make up the rest of the show without them working or moving, which was fun!

MAMMA MIA!
London Cast 2017/2018

How do you keep your performance fresh when you’re on stage eight times a week?

Good question. This is first contract I’ve had which is a year long, so I’m still finding that out to be honest. Something I try to do before going on every night is remind myself that all the events that happen during the show are happening for the first time, so I don’t pre-empt anything, and that usually makes me present. That, and just constantly being open to reacting to whatever Sophie or whoever I’m with and what they’re giving me. That makes it fun every night because you don’t know what you are going to get. And if something is a bit rubbish one night, or something goes wrong, you get to try again tomorrow and be better!

Can we go back a bit and talk about what inspired you to become an actor and the path you took to becoming one?

I don’t know if anything particularly inspired me to become an actor, I think I was always pretty sure that was what I wanted to do since I was a little guy. I was put into local amateur shows and went to youth drama groups/theatre schools. Music and drama was something I always kind of excelled in at school, so it started to become obvious what path I was going down. It was a way to express myself whilst growing up, when I didn’t particularly know how to yet. If I didn’t have those groups and shows, I think being a teenager would have been a lot harder. I guess the teachers and friends that were in my life during that time inspired me to pursue it professionally. Oh and my uncle Alan. He was the one who introduced me to a lot of theatre and has always been my biggest fan. He’s a big inspiration for all this.

Do you have any advice for kids back home who aspire to become a performer?

If you love it, pursue it. There are so many ways to become part of theatre and the arts professionally, which many kids aren’t made aware of in schools. Actors, musicians, hair and makeup, production, agents, casting, it’s all out there. Do not let your parents try and choose your pathways for you, and make you do something you don’t want to; you’ll be unhappy. I was lucky enough to be fully supported by my family in all my endeavours but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I remember my guidance teacher told me that I shouldn’t do music AND drama at the same time in school, and made it out that it was practically impossible to pursue a career in it. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to her. Even if you aren’t the best at everything to begin with, keep learning and growing and trying, because you eventually start to get somewhere. Don’t settle, and go chase your dreams; it can happen!

Christopher Jordan-Marshall (front centre) Mamma Mia! 2017/2018 Cast

Finally, why should people come along to see you in Mamma Mia!?

Our cast is amazing, there’s topless boys, and the tunes are amazing obviously. I also keep my Scottish accent so SCOTLAND REPRESENT. Come get drunk (if you’re over 18) and dance!!

You can see Christopher at the Novello Theatre – more information here

Image credit: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

 

INTERVIEW: Medhavi Patel star of We Are The Lions, Mr Manager! – currently touring the UK

Medhavi Patel is taking on the role of Jayaben Desai in the world premiere of We Are The Lions, Mr Manager!, which is currently touring the UK.

Patel’s previous stage work has seen her star in Tales of Birbal, Trident Moon and Fragile Land, and she has starred in TV shows including Doctors and Holby City. The role of Jayaben Desai holds particular significance to Patel after she learned she is a distant relative of the iconic leader.

The play will be at Eastwood Park Theatre on 29 October 2017.

Tell us a little bit about the play.

We Are The Lions, Mr Manager! is a beautifully written play by Neil Gore about the Grunwick strikers back in 1976. The play is based on the strong and courageous journey of Jayaben Desai, a South Asian women of Gujarati descent. Jayaben fought along with the many that supported her for the right to have a union represent them in the factory they worked for – this was due to the mistreatment of immigrant workers at the factory.

Medhavi Patel as Jayaben Desai in We Are The Lions, Mr Manager

And your role…

I will be playing Jayaben Desai. She was a woman of incredible strength, courage and determination. She fought a battle at a time where the odds were against her, simply because she was a woman and an immigrant. Many say she was ahead of her time and strived to show that Asian woman can be strong and outspoken too.

The real Jayaben Desai

How has the play been received so far, has it been different in different locations? 

Many are excited at the prospects of such a strong play based on real-life experiences which are still a struggle for many in today’s society. I believe it will be received strongly everywhere we go, as we have kept the energy levels high and used elements of humour and emotion at the right balance.

What is life like backstage on tour?

Rehearsals are fun but gruelling and trying to get the right tone of the play and characters is important. Louise Townsend (Director) and Neil Gore (Playwright and Actor) have gone to great lengths to ensure the production is as close to real life events as possible. There have been many moments of laughter but equally many moments of discussion and thought about why the play is so important right now. Life backstage can be tiring but when you love what you do, that feeling takes second place.

Touring can be demanding: how do you keep your performance fresh/look after yourself when you’re having to travel as well as perform on stage at night?

I try to be as active as possible on a regular basis, whether this means walking, going to gym, for a gentle run, dancing in my room, practicing yoga and even getting enough shut eye. I also make sure I drink plenty of water and keep healthy snacks to hand. I warm up before performances and ensure I have time to silence the world from my thoughts before the show in order to go on sharp, focused and energised. Rest and play should be in the right balance and looking after oneself is essential to any performer as we are our tools.

Can we go back a bit and talk about what inspired you to become an actor and the path you took to become one?

I chose this path as I always loved performing from a young age. I didn’t see it as something particularly unique or special, as it feels like home when I’m performing – it really feels like I’m doing what makes me happy and that is my life’s mantra.

People spend so much time working and worrying that they forget about feeling, whether it’s happy or sad. When you incite feelings in your audience and bring them into your world it is the most amazing feeling. When you are able to touch people and make them aware of these feelings, it’s a job well done. I love the physical, mental and emotional challenges, the creativity, the people and the experiences that being a performer brings.

Any advice for aspiring performers?

Keep learning and be open to new challenges, don’t let yourself fit in just one category as you’ll never know your true potential.

Know your value and never be scared to question if you don’t understand or you don’t agree with something. An actor never stops learning and developing as their environment and life is their inspiration. Keep your craft alive through moments of quiet through attending workshops, shows or even trying to learn a new skill. You’ll never regret it.

Finally, why should people come along to see the play? And where else can we see it?

I think it will touch anyone who has ever had to fight for something important. It shows that together any difficulty can be faced and overcome. To see and know the story of a strong South Asian woman who has fought so valiantly for the rights we have today, to understand that we can question the systems in place and strive to make changes not just for ourselves but also for the people around us.

The play will also be on tour UK-wide and comes to Glasgow’s Eastwood Park Theatre on 29 October. Tickets are on sale now, priced £15 standard and concession £12 from: http://www.eastwoodparktheatre.co.uk/boxoffice .

Further dates and show locations on can be found: www.townsendproductions.org.uk

 

INTERVIEW: Gina Isaac star of Rapture Theatre’s Streetcar Named Desire

Gina Isaac is currently starring in Rapture Theatre Company’s new production of A Streetcar Named Desire as Stella. I caught up with Gina just before the final week of the production at Edinburgh King’s Theatre.

A Streetcar Named Desire is an American classic, for those who are less familiar with it could you tell us a little bit about the play. 

It’s a story full of the heat and vibrancy of the city where it is set, in New Orleans. Blanche and her sister Stella, who is married to the brutish Stanley, find themselves thrown together and the story unfolds from there. You see the old world and the new clashing up against each other in the various characters in the play. There are too many spoilers in there to go into detail but it’s a wonderful story.

And your role…

Blanche is a fading Southern Belle who is desperately trying to hold onto a world that no longer exists. Like all of Tennessee Williams characters she is deeply flawed and yet striving with hope for something more.

How much preparation and rehearsal time did you get before the tour started? 

The rehearsal period was four weeks, with a week of sitting around a table discussing and then ‘getting it on it’s feet’. Streetcar is a very complex play with layers upon layers for the actors to discover. It was a very intense but satisfying process.

How has the play been received so far, has it been different in different locations? 

We’ve had a really terrific reception from all of our audiences, and every audience is different of course. The play is quite ‘light’ in the first act, and the story is very engaging, which seems to invite the audience in and they are really with us. Come the second act, things get dark pretty quickly but by then the audience seem to have really invested in the characters and you can hear a pin drop…with the occasional rustle of sweet packets.

What is life like backstage on tour? 

I wouldn’t know on this job as I never leave the stage or the wings. I’m pretty sure they’re having a good time though. It’s normally a strange mixture of high and lows on any tour – it can be quite an intense experience working in such a bubble for months at a time.

Touring can be demanding, how do you keep your performance fresh and look after yourself when you’re having to travel as well as perform on stage at night? 

Touring actually really helps to keep a performance/play feeling fresh. Every venue and auditorium is different with it’s own set of challenges, so you never really ‘settle’, which is great. You learn to listen to your body as an actor, as it will always let you know if you’re burning the candle too much. Some parts that you play will demand you look after yourself more than others…it’s a delicate balancing act but common sense really.

Can we go back a bit and talk about what inspired you to become an actor and the path you took to become one? 

I used to watch a lot of the old MGM movies when I was a kid and I guess that’s what sparked things for me. I was lucky, in that I never wanted to do anything else so I was quite a clear about the path I wanted to take. I studied drama at school and attended a group at weekends. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to go to a drama school as opposed to university and I spent three years at the Central school of Speech and Drama and then entered the industry from there. The hardest part about being an actor is once you’ve graduated and become part of a very big, very competitive industry. You learn quite quickly if the life of an actor is for you.

Any advice for aspiring performers?

Gosh, that’s a tricky one. I guess one of the main things I have realised, is that every job you do informs and moulds you as an actor. You are constantly learning as an actor, always. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it for. You take something from every job, the good ones and the ‘not so good’ ones. Also, always brush your teeth and if you’re on an OK wage, get a round in now and then.

Finally, why should people come along to see the play? and where can we see it?

Because ‘Streetcar‘ is the most brilliant story…and everyone loves a good story. It’s totally engaging from the off and I think you really care about the characters and what happens to them. This is our final week at The Kings, Edinburgh, so do yourself a favour and come see it.

Gina will be appearing in Rapture Theatre’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the King’s, Edinburgh from 3 – 7 October 2017.

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INTERVIEW: Robert Softley Gale talks about Blanche and Butch

Robert Softley Gale is an established figure in the Scottish arts scene, with over sixteen years of experience in diverse and varied roles – including actor and performer, director, writer and advocate of equality within the arts.

Robert’s professional acting debut was in 2002 and since then he has appeared in many productions – including co-writing and performing in ‘Girl X’ for National Theatre of Scotland. His award-winning solo performance – ‘If These Spasms Could Speak’ – was a hit of the 2013 Made in Scotland programme and has subsequently toured internationally to countries including Brazil, Estonia, the USA, Ireland and India.
A graduate of Glasgow University, Robert is an Artistic Director of Birds of Paradise Theatre Company.

For BOP (Birds of Paradise) he has directed the smash-hit sex comedy Wendy Hoose and Purposeless Movements, for which he was nominated for a CATS Best Director award. Glasgow Theatre Blog had the pleasure of talking to Robert about his play Blanche and Butch which is at Eastwood Park Theatre on 7th October.

Tell us a little bit about the play.

Blanche & Butch is set backstage at a touring performance of the iconic 1960s film ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’. The film starred Bette Davies and Joan Crawford, with Joan playing Blanche, who is a wheelchair user – the three drag queens in Blanche & Butch are presenting the first stage version of Baby Jane to star an ‘actually disabled’ Blanche. There’s a lot of bitchiness and power struggles, camp show tunes and touching ballads – something for everyone!

And your role…

I play Blanche, the youngest of the three drag queens we meet. Blanche wants to make it big – wants to get his name in lights and be a star. But everyone else keeps reminding him that there are limits to what he can achieve.

 

How has the play been received so far, has it been different in different locations?

So far we’ve opened at the Tron in Glasgow and toured to Greenock and Stirling – audiences have been loving the show so far. There are a lot of funny one-liners and much crudeness but there are also songs about trying to be the best dad you can be and a very funny number about intersectionality. Like I said, something for everyone.

What is life like backstage on tour?

I feel like I should write something cruel and bitchy about how difficult they all are the work alongside, but honestly we all get on really well and have a great laugh. The hardest bit to being backstage is putting on tights every night when you’re a guy who has cerebral palsy!

Touring can be demanding, how do you keep your performance fresh/look after yourself when you’re having to travel as well as perform on stage at night?

It is pretty knackering – you learn a lot of tricks over the years to make things easier. Grabbing food whenever you can is important, as it isn’t always easy to find your next meal between shows and travelling. Keeping each performance fresh is about remembering that for every audience tonight is their first night – ever show is a unique event between us and that audience. It sounds cliché but no two shows are the same, we’re always finding new things within the show.

Can we go back a bit and talk about what inspired you to become an actor and the path you took to become one?

You can read quite a bit about this here http://www.softley.co.uk/biography.htm#22 – but the short answer is that I was studying Management at Glasgow Uni – thinking that a disabled guy could never be an actor – when I got a call from a theatre company in Edinburgh asking me to audition for them. I thought I had no chance – but what the heck! Long story short I got the job and 15 years later I’m still here!

Any advice for aspiring performers?

Be nice to work with – you could be the best actor in the world but if you’re difficult to work with then directors will find someone else. And have fun – it’s called a  ‘play’ for a reason.

Finally, why should people come along to see the play? and where else can we see it?

If you want to have a really good night out – with a lot of laughs and moments of “They didn’t just say THAT, did they?”, then this is the show for you.

You can see it at Eastwood Park Theatre in Glasgow on Saturday 7 October and buy tickets from https://www.eastwoodparktheatre.co.uk/article/9098/Blanche–Butch

The rest of the tour dates are available: www.boptheatre.co.uk/blanche-butch/

Header image of Robert Softley Gale by Eoin Carey

INTERVIEW: Keith Jack talks about his tour and album Movie Nights

Keith Jack is probably best-known for finishing second on BBC 1’s Any Dream Will Do but his theatre credits since leaving the show are impressive: The Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (UK Tour); Charlie in Only The Brave (Edinburgh Festival); Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (UK Tour); Alistair in Sincerely, Mr Toad (Edinburgh/Greenwich); Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore (UK Tour) and Sparky in Forever Plaid (St James Theatre, London).

No stranger to pantomime, Keith’s credits include: the title role in Aladdin (King’s Theatre, Glasgow); the Prince in Sleeping Beauty (Ipswich Regent); the title role in Peter Pan (His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen), Prince Charming in Cinderella (Whitley Bay/Horsham/Newark) and the title role in Dick Whittington (Maidstone). This season he will be starring as The Prince in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks).

Keith’s newly-released fourth album, Movie Nights, features classic songs from iconic movies, here he talks about the inspiration for the album and the tour to promote it and answers some questions about his career.

This album, and the forthcoming tour, has come from my massive love of films from a young age. I wanted to find a good mix of songs – both young and old – with all different styles and have them led by strings, giving a different feel to all other movie albums. I feel like we have really achieved this, making it more my own style without losing why people fell in love with the song in the first place.

I couldn’t have done it without my lovely friend and MD, Scott Morgan, who did all the arrangements on the album and played the piano beautifully! He was supported by fantastic string players in January Tewson, Jade Cuthburt, James Greenfield and Naomi Wright; thank you for your lovely playing on this album.

A big thank you to Kristian Polly for recording the album and for a fun day in the church recording the strings and also to Istage Studio for letting me use their fantastic facilities to record in. A special thank you to Jim Lang who Mixed and Mastered the whole album, making it sound exactly how I imagined it would be. Also, a special mention to Ian Fraser for all the pictures and the album artwork. I have been lucky enough to have a fantastic team around me to do this album and I couldn’t have done it without them all.

My last mention goes to my family and friends for their help and support in creating this album. And, of course, not forgetting you – my amazing fans. Thank you so much for coming along with me on this journey over the last 10 years. From coming to concerts, buying albums and your support on social media, I can’t thank you enough! I hope you enjoy this album just as much as my others. This tour is the most perfect way to celebrate its release! So, sit back, grab your popcorn and enjoy!

Q & A Interview

Some former talent show contestants claim that the process leaves them feeling manipulated and exploited. Did your experience in Any Dream Will Do make you feel that way?

No, not at all. We were kind of moulded and helped and nurtured to be the kind of performer that Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted. I never felt as though I was just a cog in a money-making wheel.

An amazing 21 million viewers tuned into the final of the series, in June 2007, and Lee Mead went on to wow the West End critics as Joseph in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s magical musical. But you couldn’t even console yourself with the prospect of performing the role in the touring production of the show. That opportunity had already been offered to Craig Chalmers, who finished fifth in the competition. Surely, you must have been gutted and, perhaps, even a little resentful?

Not at all. I was actually still competing in the programme when Craig was eliminated and Bill Kenwright offered him the part of Joseph.

To prove that you held no hard feelings, you accepted the role of Narrator in the touring version, alongside Craig Chalmers, as Joseph, and fellow competitor Chris Barton, who finished in eighth place, as Benjamin. Tell me about that?

I loved it. And, actually, it’s a bigger singing role than Joseph.

They say, though, that everything comes to he who waits and, eventually, you got to actually play the role that you competed for. How did that feel?

It was just a really nice feeling to finally get to do it. I was able to relax and settle into it a lot easier than I would have done if I’d come to it straight from the show. We had some great audiences on the tour and it was nice to see all different parts of the country.

Was it difficult learning to cope with the instant fame that is often the result of such shows.

At first it was strange. You don’t change as a person but everyone else changes around you. It’s very strange to walk down the street and have people following you and trying to take your picture.

Your boy-next-door good looks have ensured that you have a loyal fan following and not just from girls…tell me more?

I was very proud to be featured on the front of a gay magazine. When I first went on to Any Dream Will Do, John Barrowman told me: ‘You haven’t made it until you have a gay fan base’, so to be the cover boy on such a magazine made me very happy.

Tell me what has been happening in your career lately?

I have just finished touring with Joe McElderry in the Saturday Night at the Movies tour and have also completed my brand new album Movie Nights. Right now, I’m enjoying being busy preparing for the forthcoming tour to promote the album.

What are your favourite tracks on the new album and why did you select them?

I love ‘So Close’ from Disney’s Enchanted. That song comes at such a lovely moment in the film and it’s such a beautiful song. It’s not the bestknown song from the movie, but I performed it on the Saturday Night at the Movies tour and everyone seemed to love it. It’s strange that people recognise the song but don’t know where from. I also really like the arrangement that my MD, Scott Morgan, came up with for ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’. Stevie Wonder’s original version has a happy, upbeat feel to it. I have chosen to perform it as a more melancholic ballad – it almost sounds as though it could be a sad lullaby. I think it’s nice to change the arrangement when performing a cover version, rather than just trying to replicate the original.

How do you feel you have matured, musically, in the past decade?

I’m partly the same performer as I was. However, I feel that my voice and, indeed, my performances are more structured and mature. People tell me that I’ve not lost any of the charm, fun and vibrancy of my younger years. I think I have just grown up, that’s all. I now think that I know myself inside out as a performer.

Does it make a lot of difference to be able to choose your own material now, rather than having songs and themes chosen for you?

It makes a massive difference. A lot of the stuff I performed in Any Dream Will Do, I would not have chosen for myself. That said, it taught me to experiment with different styles and to take chances and stretch my boundaries. It’s liberating not to have to pick songs with the sole intention of pleasing the public. That has pushed me on so far.

A selection of the possible songs for Keith’s tour (subject to change) follows:

A Thousand Years: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn

Everything I Do (I Do It For You): Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Staying Alive: Saturday Night Fever

I Just Called To Say I Love You: The Woman In Red

So Close: Enchanted

You’ve Got A Friend In Me: Toy Story

She’s Like The Wind: Dirty Dancing

Kiss From A Rose: Batman Forever

Jailhouse Rock: Jailhouse Rock

Beauty and the Beast: Beauty and the Beast

Run To You: The Bodyguard

KEITH JACK – MOVIE NIGHTS, WILD CABARET GLASGOW 22 OCTOBER 2017

TICKETS – 0141 552 6165

For more information and to keep up to date with future projects, visit: Officialkeithjack.co.uk or @keithjack on Twitter.

INTERVIEW: Michael Palin talks about his up-coming solo tour

Why have you decided to embark on your first-ever solo stage tour?

Over the years I’ve done a lot of one-man shows, usually just for one evening either to raise money at a charity event or at a book festival. I’ve really quite enjoyed doing them. It’s a nice format and I like talking to a live audience, and with the diaries [Travelling To Work: Diaries 1988-1998] coming out in September I thought ‘What can we do that’s a little bit different to anything we’ve done before?’ Book publicity is a cutthroat business these days, with everyone trying to get their publicity to out-do someone else’s and all that. I thought ‘The thing I really enjoy is doing a show so rather than a one-night stand here and there let’s do a whole tour’. We’ve put 21 shows together and I can go right round the country and hopefully entertain audiences about the 25 years since we did Around The World In 80 Days. Also, I can talk about the diaries and put that period of the 90s into context and enjoy reminiscing with a live audience. It seems to concentrate the publicity for the diaries and the interest in them and it maximises what I could do to promote them and what I enjoy doing best of all.

The book is your third volume of diaries. Can you tell us a little bit about the content?

It covers ten years from 1988 to 1998 and it begins with my misgivings about having embarked on Around The World In 80 Days. I discovered some little private thoughts I’d written down – not the diaries I use for work or for writing the book – which seem to suggest I was deeply worried about what I’d taken on. We were going to be 80 days away from home, longer than I’d ever been away before, and there was no script. We were going to make it up as we went along and you get the feeling of someone not embarking on what he thought was going to be a legendary breakthrough in travel television but someone who was absolutely terrified. So the book starts there and it ends up, rather ironically, with the decision in 1998 not to do a Monty Python reunion for various reasons, all of which are there in the diaries. In between it’s really the meanderings of someone approaching their 50s – I pass that milestone in 1993 – who never really had a proper job and who was seizing all sorts of opportunities. My first novel [Hemingway’s Chair], for instance, was published in 1994 and in 1995 there was the first – and last – play I ever wrote for the West End [The Weekend]. In amongst all this is some interesting new work like a major acting role in 1991 in the Alan Bleasdale drama GBH and movies like American Friends and Fierce Creatures, John Cleese’s follow-up to A Fish Called Wanda. Then bringing the whole lot together, in an extraordinarily busy decade, were the travel programmes. Around The World In 80 Days turned out to be a great success and lead to two, much longer series in Pole To Pole and Full Circle. They’re the diaries of someone pretty much working flat-out with a sort of added urgency that they were getting on a bit and it was now time to do all the things he could possibly do as a freelance.

You’re still working flat-out now…

Well, yes, I know. That’s the thing – I’m trying to somehow maintain a balance between work and play but I find it very hard to say no.

You’re celebrating nearly 50 years in showbusiness. What are your fondest or most vivid memories?

It’ll be the 50th anniversary next year, yes, and honestly my fondest memory is of Edinburgh in August and September 1964. I appeared in an Oxford University Revue with Terry Jones and others. It was the first time I’d actually been on a stage night after night to perform comedy, some of which I’d written myself, and it was such a great thrill to do that. I realised I could make audiences laugh. These weren’t just friends from university, these were audiences that had come up for the international festival. What happened at the Edinburgh Festival with the Oxford Revue was for me quite life-changing because for the first time I thought ‘Hey, the acting and the humour and all the things I enjoy most in life could possibly make me a living’. My father disagreed profoundly but that was a very important moment for me. I suppose the other great moment was when I’d moved on from comedy into making travel programmes. Around The World In 80 Days did very well and I think the last episode got 12 million viewers. I then said ‘That’s it’ because it was a one-off idea, following Jules Verne, with a competitive element to it and all that. Then two years later because the viewing figures had been so good we thought we could do a follow-up but this time there was no Jules Verne story, we just had to do it ourselves as a way of travelling to places I’d never been before, meeting people and talking to the camera. It was called Pole To Pole and although I thought it was pretty good when I finished it I had no idea how an audience would react. Would they just say ‘Where’s the competition element? He’s just going around the world. He’s having a nice time wandering about’. But then the first audience figures came in and they were something like nine million and I thought ‘This is wonderful’. I’d made it on my own terms as more of a genuine geographical look-at-the-world programme and we still got a huge audience. There was a feeling of ‘Wow, there’s real potential here’. I then went on and made six more series.

You’re an ardent supporter of bookshops. Why do you feel they’re still so important?

Because I think books bring people together. Look at all the book groups there are now. It’s really nice to talk about a book to another human being directly. You can do it online and all that but it’s nice to come to an actual place where you can talk about books. Bookshops have that role within the community. People talk about ideas, their favourite work, ‘Have you got this? Have you got that?’ It’s all conducted with real human beings in a living space. Bookshops don’t have a God-given right to exist. They’ve got to be bright. They’ve got to have ways of selling the books. They’ve got to have a certain character that makes you want to go in, like giving you a nice cup of coffee. But they’re friendly places where you discuss ideas you’ve read in books and that’s really important – not just for the way we are and how we talk to each other, but it’s a very important part of a community to have a place where people come together for whatever reason.

How does writing compare to performing and TV presentation as a discipline?

It’s a lonelier thing. If you’re doing a television series or a television drama or you’re doing some sort of performance there are going to be others around you all the time. You’re like a team, but when you’re writing there’s going to be a certain point where you have to go off on your own and do it yourself. You’ve got to set your own limits and decide exactly how you’re going to do it. The difficult thing I find with writing is that it can go in any direction. I’m thinking of novels really, not the travel books – the travel books are rather different because it’s basically just recording notes I’ve taken. But with novels the book keeps changing and the options seem to be far greater. If you’re doing something on stage it’s: Bang! You’re in front of an audience and you’ve got to do it. With a book there’s more time to contemplate and reflect, which can sometimes be quite troubling and it can make you think ‘Oh dear, perhaps I shouldn’t have done it like this after all’.

What’s your routine when you’re writing?

I very much have a routine. I’m totally freelance and the one-man shows I’ve been doing I tend to call things like 40 Years Without A Proper Job. It’s true; I’ve never signed a contract for longer than the duration of one particular project so I have to keep making sure I know what I’m doing and what I’m planning to do, otherwise you get sidetracked into all sorts of distractions. I have to be very careful about how I apportion my time and I have to know roughly how long it might take to write something. So I am disciplined but I’m not one of those people who get up at five in the morning and work for six hours. I start work at nine and I finish around 5pm, and if you’re freelance you can put in the odd hour around that in order to get it right. Having a balance between work and play and work and family is very important and I try and keep that, and the only way you can do that is by making sure your work itself is ring-fenced – there’s the time you’re doing it and when you’ve finished, stop it, leave it, and go off and enjoy yourself.

How do you celebrate once a book is finished?

It’s a very odd thing but I’m never quite sure when a book is finished. I’m one of these people who always feel there’s something more you can do and there’s something you can improve right up to the end. Right through to the moment when the finished copy comes through the post and on to the desk I’m nervous. I’m probably nervous even at that point, but when the book’s there and you’re holding it in your hand – the finished object that people who buy your book are going to be holding in their hands too – that’s when I know it’s finished or at least I’m thinking ‘There’s nothing more I can do now’. I’ll still be looking through it gingerly and going ‘My god, page 247, I shouldn’t have said that! There’s nothing better than seeing the end product with a nice, bright, clean cover and all that. That’s when I’ll probably go off and celebrate and probably food and drink will be involved.

When you’re on the road what’s the one thing you couldn’t be without?

A notebook and pen, undoubtedly. I’d feel naked if I didn’t have my little black Alwych notebooks made in Glasgow which I’ve taken on all my travels and a pen with which to scribble things down. It has to be done longhand.

Do you get nervous before facing an audience?

I think you’ve got to be nervous before you step out on stage. If it felt like you were just going down to the shops or to see a movie or to buy some socks it wouldn’t be right. The engagement with the audience is not altogether natural. You’re going to be on stage and expecting 1,000 people to sit and listen to you for two hours. When I look at it like that I feel the nerves begin to tingle. Entertaining means that you’ve got to be on the mark, you’ve got to be on the ball. Even if you know people have come along because they want to see you – and that’s very nice – you’ve got to entertain them and make them feel comfortable. I always feel you’ve got to be on top of your game and you should treat each show as a separate show. There’s got to be something that’s fresh and new in every performance and that means you’ve got to feel the energy as you go out there and keep your own energy levels up. Being a little nervous is the price you pay for the price they pay.

You’ve got the Python reunion shows coming up. Do you know yet what formats those shows will take?

We have a script. We had a draft script at the end of last year and that’s been honed down a bit. The format is pretty much a bedrock of our classic sketches: The Lumberjack Song, Nudge Nudge, Argument Clinic and things like that which we know have worked on stage before. There are also a few extras like The Spanish Inquisition, which hasn’t been done on stage before. Woven around that there’s a big production with lights and dancers and songs, which won’t require us to participate because we’ll be off getting changed. I don’t know if I’ll be dancing myself. There may be movement in the lower limbs. We’ll take medical advice on that.

It what ways have you changed since the Python days?

The original spirit in which these sketches were written and the reaction we had to them when they were first written – which was that they were very funny – all comes back. We couldn’t have done these shows if we didn’t believe in the material and if we didn’t think we could make the material funny again. So I don’t feel as though I’ve changed much at all and that’s a bit of a problem because I’m 71 and you can’t quite do all the things you thought you could do. The real change over the years is that we’ve become famous. When we started the shows in 1969 and in fact all through three and a half series right up to 1973 we were not that well-known individually. Certainly there was very little talk about ‘the legendary Pythons’, ‘pushing back the barriers of comedy’ and all that sort of thing. All that has come much later and it makes you feel a little self-conscious. I think we have to try to, if you like, disregard all that stuff about what it all means and the heavy-duty PR and just enjoy ourselves because that is what it will make it work and that’s what people are coming to see. I’ve got to get back to my original Python, my inner Python.

Do you envision ever retiring?

No, I don’t think so. I always think ‘Retire from what?’ My life and work are sort of intricately interwoven. I work at home every day. It’s not a feeling like my father had when he was 65 of ‘Great, I don’t have to go to the office and to meetings any more’. I’ll work until I drop and possibly afterwards, you know? A travel series set in Heaven, perhaps!

You must also have a few more volumes of the diaries to get through?

I think this new volume will almost certainly be the last for a while. The material is there but it’s very important to have a gap, probably around 20 or 25 years, between what you’re describing and when the diaries come out. That way it’s less like a journalistic report and something more reflective, talking about a period that people are beginning to forget. There’ll certainly be a gap but I’m still keeping a diary so there are all these words piling up somewhere which my children or my estate will have to deal with after I’ve gone.

*Travelling To Work: Diaries 1988-1998 will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson on September 11th. The Travelling To Work tour visits Glasgow’s Theatre Royal on Fri 12th September info here: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/michael-palin-travelling-to-work/theatre-royal-glasgow/

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