WHEN asking Gray O’Brien ‘How are you?’ the usual polite opener to a chat has a searing resonance attached. In late 2019, the actor took a trip to the doctor to have his swollen glands looked at. But the staggering diagnosis came back of Stage 4 tonsil cancer.
“Well, I’m really good,” says the Ayrshire born actor, sounding in great voice. “Especially when you think I was not at all sure I’d ever be able to do this again. But I’m really surprised how strong I feel, physically and vocally.”
O’Brien is currently touring with the detective drama Catch Me If You Can (nothing to do with the Leo Di Caprio film of the same name) and he couldn’t be more excited. The man from Ayrshire can’t quite believe he’s been given a second chance at life. And to be performing again . . .
“It’s incredible. When I was first told the news by the specialist my immediate response was ‘I’m due to appear in a play. Can I still go on stage one last time before treatment?’ As an actor it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Yet, even though the treatment worked there was no guarantee I’d ever be able to stand on a stage and project my voice. But it’s all turned out wonderfully. In fact, I’m planning to release an album of jazz songs.”
There is another delight to touring with this American rewrite of a French play. O’Brien has found two new best friends in former Dallas star Patrick Duffy and his partner and co-star Linda Purl. “I watched him on television when I was at high school in the Eighties. Now we have this sort of brother/father relationship. He’s great. He’s funny.”
O’Brien laughs. “He’ll sometimes give me the finger as I walk on stage. And when I make a mistake, he certainly lets me know. But of course, he says he never gets it wrong. But then he was the Man from Atlantis.”
In the Sixties thriller, the former River City and Coronation Street actor plays Inspector Levine, a New York detective called to a remote log-cabin in upstate New York to investigate the disappearance of Elizabeth Corban (Purl) three days previously. Later, her frantic new husband Daniel (Duffy) is visited by the local priest Father Kelleher, who brings Elizabeth with him.
However, Daniel is convinced that this Elizabeth is as genuine as JFK’s commitment to marriage. But no-one else seems to agree with him. Is Daniel losing his mind?
The audience enjoyment of the play has certainly been added to by O’Brien’s wise-guy performance. “I’ve always been hard on myself about accents,” he explains “I really wanted to get it right. So, I decided he would sound a bit like Jackie Mason, New York-Jewish, a cop who has moved Upstate. To try and get it right I watched a lot of The Marvellous Mrs Mazel, which was set in the Catskills.” He offers a pleased smile; “People who don’t know me think I’m American.”
The play however features the sensibilities of the period. “There is always the worry of cancel culture these days,” says the actor, “but if you can’t look back and learn from the behaviour of a period you’re missing out on a great deal.”
Catch Me If You Can, the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until Saturday.
Don’t miss: The chance to make your lunchtime rather less predictable. Oran Mor’s Play, Pie and a Pint is Scots, by Noisemaker, a musical adventure story about Scotland through the ages. ‘Its past. Its present. Its future. It’s people. It’s places. All in under an hour, with raucous songs and rousing music.’ What’s not to love? Oran Mor, Glasgow, until Saturday.
DAVID Walliams is one of these people who divides opinion. If he’s not appearing on every chat show ever conceived or rubbing goose fat all over his body or flirting with Simon Cowell, he’s writing books that are then transformed into plays.
And even if you find him more irritating than a passport queue does that mean your child should be denied the fun that he has played a major part in creating?
Of course not. So, take your little darlings along to see Gangsta Granny. It’s the story of 11-year-old Ben who spends Friday nights with Granny and each week faces a diet of cabbage soup, cabbage pie and cabbage cake. (Cue lots of fart jokes)
But what Ben, who dreams of growing up to be a plumber (clearly aware of the Brexit-related deficit) doesn’t know is that Granny has a secret. No, she doesn’t reveal that she was once an acid-dropping hippy who slept with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock and didn’t return home for a year. It’s that she’s more than up for a raid on the Tower of London.
This award-winning West End production underlines the potency of Walliams’ storytelling, and it features a couple of clear messages; a very special bond can emerge across the generations.
And write off older people at your peril. If Paul McCartney can appear at Glastonbury aged 80, what’s wrong with a white-haired granny going out on the rob?
Perth Theatre, tonight.