How do you feel about being nominated?
I was absolutely thrilled to find out that I’ve been nominated for the Journal Culture Awards in the Best Performing Artist category. There have been so many great performances from countless fabulous artists in our region this year, that it’s humbling to realise the company I’ll be in on the night.
It’s a hugely exciting prospect for me to be attending this year’s ceremony at Sage Gateshead (my first) and to be spending time with the other nominated artists, guests and judges. I won’t be there on my own, of course, but will be joined by some of the other actors, writers and directors I’ve worked with this year, who have been so supportive, generous and nurturing, and who have enabled me to enjoy some of the most challenging and fulfilling work I have produced in my 26 years as a professional actor. It’s going to be some night!
How was 2013 for you and what were your highlights?
2013 was a fabulous year for me professionally and personally. The job I do – actor – has many ups and downs, but there is no doubt that, after a year like 2013, I feel privileged indeed to be doing what I enjoy most.
I met many people last year who I know will remain friends for many years to come, and was lucky to work with others I have known and worked with for decades. Following a successful run of The Pitmen Painters in the West End in 2012, 2013 saw me joining a whole new company to take the show on a national tour. People in the North East often ask me how the show travels. Do the people of Guilford or Brighton or Truro understand and appreciate it? The answer, of course, is a resounding ‘Yes!’ It may be a story of a group of Ashington miners in the 1930s and 40s, but really it is a piece about people. The human condition. Funny, heartwarming and radical in equal measure, it has a universality that all of Lee Hall’s plays have – not least Billy Elliot, and it was a joy to take it around the country. One thing I will add though is, yes they do ‘get’ the play everywhere (it had a successful run on Broadway) but the response we received at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal was on a different plain. Local audiences do get something else from The Pitmen Painters that people from outside this region don’t. The references, the recognition of the characters as being like themselves maybe, meant that the play ran a full 10 minutes longer in Newcastle than anywhere else – because of the extra laughs we got. Brilliant!
Following that, I returned home to do two plays in Newcastle at Live Theatre. I began my career at Live Theatre 26 years ago in the play Kiddar’s Luck, and it always feels the most comfortable place on earth for me to work. Firstly, was a new play, Wet House, by a new playwright, Paddy Campbell (nominated for a Journal Culture Award for Writer of the Year). Wet House is a remarkable debut play from an incredible new voice, and the process of getting it from page to stage was remarkable. The subject matter – the staff and residents of a ‘wet’ hostel (i.e. they can drink alcohol) for the homeless, was a difficult one and required a great deal of research for the actors. Paddy had worked in a hostel like the one he writes about as a younger man, and the cast spent many hours talking to people who had become homeless and ended up there themselves. Many had been as low as it is possible to imagine, and the firsthand stories we heard from addicts and former addicts were often difficult to listen to. I was privileged to be allowed into a meeting for recovering addicts and to hear their stories and to talk to them about their lives – giving me a completely new perspective on an a sector of society that most of us would rather not think about. All of this, I think, paid off in the end, as the play was universally acclaimed, and achieved a level of authenticity that left Live Theatre audiences stunned. Saying all that, you mustn’t be put off by the subject matter. Wet House is also very funny and occasionally heartwarming, and if you missed it first time round then I urge you to catch it again when it returns in the autumn.
My final personal highlight of 2013 was the return of Lee Hall’s shocking, funny and irreverent comedy, Cooking With Elvis, again at Live Theatre. I have done this play several times in the last 15 years. It was Lee’s first full-length play and after a run at Live Theatre we took it to the Edinburgh Fringe and then to the West End, with Frank Skinner taking over the role of Stuart – the oldest young lad you’re likely to see! After that we took it on a national tour, with Trevor Fox restored to his rightful place as Stuart, Charlie Hardwick as mam and Jill Halfpenny as Jill – but that was more than 10 years ago. Going back to something you have loved so much in the past is often a tricky decision. How will the play be received now? How will the new cast compare to the old? Can I still fit in the jumpsuits? As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. I loved of every minute of doing the play again and the new cast were fantastic – with special mention to Victoria Bewick’s spellbinding performance as Jill in her stage debut. And it was also great to be doing the show back at Live Theatre, it’s spiritual home. It is Lee Hall’s most produced work – playing in countries from Peru to Korea – but it works nowhere better than on the little stage at Live Theatre. And on the jumpsuits – the answer is no, we had new ones made. And they were fabulous.
These are my personal highlights from 2013 and I will be privileged if I get another year like that again soon.