Remembering Andy Gray

January 18, 2021 | By | 4 Replies More

Memories of the comic genius who was Andy Gray

The news of Andy Gray’s death over the weekend has prompted an outpouring of sorrow, all the more heartfelt because the memories of those who knew him are so joyful.

Whether you grew up with the Edinburgh King’s panto or you witnessed Andy’s early work at Perth or with Borderline; whether you worked with him, you directed him, you interviewed him or you simply hung out with him in the bar after shows, Andy felt as if he was your pal.

Here, All Edinburgh Theatre editor Thom Dibdin recalls seeing the funny man – being funny and serious as he explored the bright and the dark sides – on Edinburgh’s stages.

Alan Bissett, Andy Gray and Denise Hoey in Battery Farm (2010).

I remember reviewing Peter Pan, the 2001 panto at the King’s which had something of a dream team going. Gerard Kelly was over from Glasgow as Smee, Juliet Cadzow was Mrs Darling, Gail Watson Peter Pan, Grant Stott was coming into his own as Starkey.

But it was Andy playing Mr Darling and Captain Hook who drew the plaudits.

“If Gray is a commanding Mr Darling,” I wrote at the time, “he could have been born to play Captain Hook. It’s not just his presence on the stage, but his understanding of the dynamics of an over-excited audience at full bay.”

I suppose it is that understanding of the dynamics of that pantomime audience which really endeared Andy to us all. He knew exactly how to keep us laughing with a carefully prepared depth charge just when you thought it was safe to draw breath again.

I’m no very well

One of the delights – and drawbacks – of reviewing pantomimes around the country is that some routines make their appearance in more than one production by the same producer. You could be sure that Andy, with Grant Stott and Allan Stewart, would always make the latest offering their own.

And of course, there was his low grumble: “I’m no very well”. Augmented, it must be remembered, with his ability to repeat a word again and again, rolling its vowels around his tongue until it became all but meaningless.

Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and a kazoo in Canned Laughter (2016). Photo: Douglas Robertson.

“Balloon,” he might say. “Balloooon… bá-loon, ballooen…” taking two syllables and making a multitude – a phonetic hotchpotch of invention. And as for his ability to draw every single nuance from the old chestnuts… well, it bring tears of laughter to the eye just to think of them.

Gray may have had an ear for comedy but it wasn’t only pantomime which made his name, of course. On stage with legendary touring company Borderline, Dario Fo hailed the 1985 production of his Trumpets and Raspberries – starring Andy with Elaine C. Smith and Alan Cumming – as “The best my play’s ever been done outside Italy!”

I seems he was equally on form with his fellow actors. Iain Johnstone remembers, on Twitter: “Andy and I were in one of the worst shows ever to have disgraced the Scottish stage.

“I realised I had a chum when at the read-through on day one, I became aware of a pen repeatedly tapping the table. It was Andy: ‘…- – – …’  SOS. Our eyes met and I picked up my pen…”

Away from the pantomime, Andy has been a regular on Edinburgh’s stages. The first time I saw him, I believe, was in 1999 at the Fringe in Theatre Archipelago’s short-lived evolution from Communicado, under Helena Kaut-Howson.

athletic physicality

Werewolf at the Traverse was “dark, grim, unforgiving and absolutely without redemption”. Andy Gray gave a “strong, workmanlike performance” as Christian Thrush, a brutal farmer who is burying his mother Maria, played by the vigorous Mary McCusker.

Grant Stott and Andy Gray in Willie and Sebastian. Photo: Steve Ullathorne

In 2001 he was in a more recognisable role at the Lyceum in Kenny Ireland’s early summer production of Guys and Dolls, not rocking the boat, as he: “matches all expectations as Nicely Nicely, with a generous performance that surprises in its athletic physicality”.

Christmas came early to the King’s the following year when Gray and Gerard Kelly joined forces for a touring Byre Theatre production of The Odd Couple, directed by Ken Alexander, who successfully updated Neil Simon’s Broadway hit, moving New York to Glasgow and the time to the present.

If the update did little more than add relevance, it allowed Gray as slobbish Oscar and Kelly as house-proud Felix to flaunt their well-kent comic characters around the stage to excellent effect, with Gray playing straight to Kelly’s angst-ridden recently spurned married man.

collective entertainment muscle

Gray was back at the Lyceum in 2003, thanks to Kenny Ireland’s new “re-rehearsal” of Yasmin Reza’s Art. While the production brought little new to the play, it certainly revelled in the collective entertainment muscle of James Macpherson, Andy Gray and Forbes Masson on stage together: “Their timing is so good that the silences are often the best part of the dialogue.”

In 2004 Andy was touring as the greedy, self-indulgent, pig headed Kenneth – with Elaine C Smith as his wife and Shonagh Price as his younger, blonder, slimmer mistress in The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband.

Tony Cownie unleashed his actors on Debbie Isitt’s script with their funny bones to the fore and their comedy buttons switched to maximum power. And, to their credit, it worked very well indeed, with Gray particularly impressive, running between the two women and finding many shades to his two-faced character.

Andy Gray and Allan Stewart in Goldilocks (2019) Pic: Douglas Robertson

During the fringe of 2005, Andy was at the Gilded Balloon, playing God, in Bob Steiner’s A Limited Run. His take on the Almighty was a grizzled old man, slightly stooping as he wandered around his distinctly down-at-heal one-bedroom flat. Such a portrayal might, in some distant era, have been a burning offence. But times change, and his God was a human, 21st century being.

If the play had its flaws, Gray “really comes into his element as he relates stories of this and that going on in Perth or Falkirk, creating minor characters for the tales with such skill that you can see them standing there, just from his voice and the inflection of his seemingly rubber face.”

It was plays and roles such as this, which gave him the freedom to use his canny ability to tell a story with every element of his physical presence  – not just his flexible face. It was comic, of course. But more than that, it told the story and got deep into the cracks.

Andy returned to Edinburgh that autumn with Allan Stewart, on tour with the Scottish leg of West End Hit Stones in His Pockets, which stopped off at the King’s. Perfectly aware of their panto credentials, the pair doffed their caps in its general direction then used it as a starting point from which to bring their individual skills to bear on a play that has, at its heart, a poignancy and sense of tragedy.

deliciously sleazy

Gray was back with Elaine C Smith in 2008, this time in Jim Cartwright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. “Verbally,” I wrote of Smith, “she ad-libs her way through the script, totally in her element as her drunken man-eating widow lunges wildly at Andy Gray’s deliciously sleazy second-rate agent, Ray Say.”

In 2009, Gray was back on the Lyceum stage, this time in a two hander with Steve McNicol. The duo got their considerable comic talents around Charles Ludlum’s delicious gothic parody, The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful. Once again: “Their timing is spot on, and they know exactly how far to take the overplaying without overwhelming the script and putting the production out of balance.”

Andy Gray and Grant Stott. Pic: Double Feature

The arrival of A Play, A Pie and A Pint gave Andy several opportunities to shine. In 2010 he made a brief appearance in Gregory Burke’s science fiction play, Battery Farm (★★★★☆ euphemism frenzy), seen at the Traverse that March.

While his brief moment was “played to perfection by Gray, it is the surrounding creation of character from looks and facial expressions that makes the performance so astounding. Those who know him from pantomime will be aware of his capacity for comic timing, but up close the basis of that comedy is given plenty or room to become apparent.”

luvvie-tastic

In November 2011 he was in Martin McCardie’s brilliant God Bless Liz Lochhead. It was certainly luvvie-tastic, with Andy Gray, Juliet Cadzow and Kate Donnelly playing three actors who have come together to recreate a (fictional) legendary tour of Liz Lochhead’s Tartuffe, but the trio pulled it off.

The Fringe of 2013 saw Andy and Grant Stott team up for the first of several outings, with Kiss Me Honey, Honey! a two-hander by Philip Meeks (★★★☆☆ Assured comic performances). Oh, and there was the small matter of a revival of God Bless Liz Locked (★★★★☆ Barbed theatrical humour). Two shows a day? No worries: Gray excelled in both. And the Autumn tour of Kiss Me was even better: ★★★★☆ Hot duo come good.

Andy Gray (right) with Grant Stott (left) and Ruaraidh Murray. Pic Grant Stott

Andy Gray (right) with Grant Stott (left), Ruaraidh Murray and a copy of the Junkies script. Summer 2018. Pic Grant Stott

In 2015, Andy and Grant were back with the foul-mouthed and funny, Willie and Sebastian (★★★★☆ Immoral compass). It was far removed from what might be expected of the established double act and Andy was rewarded with a prestigious Stage Award for acting excellence (Gray Wins Stage Award) for his performance as theatrical producer and writer William Donaldson.

It was well deserved and my highlight of that Fringe was getting to hand the award to him in front of a packed house at the end of a performance. That, and getting to hang out with him for a few celebratory proseccos in the bar afterwards.

Allan Stewart joined the duo in 2016, touring to the King’s in the Spring with Canned Laughter (★★★★☆ Canny), which allowed all three to show off their acting skills – but it still had space for Gray to let rip with the comedy in a production which combined pathos and superbly performed comedy. And a kazoo.

By 2017, Andy and Grant were on a roll, as our reviewer Hugh Simpson wrote: “Powerhouse double act Andy Gray and Grant Stott bring all their comic knowhow to bear on Double Feature at the Rose Theatre.” ★★★★☆ Double the Laughs Hugh said.

top form

The duo were supposed to be teaming up with Stockbridge-born actor and writer, Ruaraidh Murray, with Murray’s The Junkies for the Fringe in 2018. Sadly, Andy’s cancer diagnosis meant that the production never went ahead (Junkies cancelled)

Compere Andy Gray and singing star in the Awfey Huge Fantastic Variety show (2016). Photo Greg Macvean

While Andy had to miss Beauty and the Beast in 2018, he was back at the King’s for the pantomime of 2019, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. What ever quibbles you might have had about the pantomime itself, the panto triumvirate were on top form.

Never more so than for Andy’s arrival back on stage. He was greeted with just the right amount of ceremony and fanfare – bucketloads. Oh, and a standing ovation. He replied with that beatific smile and proceeded with utter relish to repeat the most unprepossessing words ad nauseam, dropping in those beautifully timed asides.

In March 2020, Andy was back on the King’s stage with Grant Stott, in Allan Stewart’s sixth and final Big Big Variety Show (★★★★☆ Comfortable). As Hugh wrote: “the welcome return to health of Andy Gray adds a welcome shot of comic energy to the routines with Allan Stewart and Grant Stott.”

Thanks for all the memories Andy. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to watch you perform over the years. You knew how to bring both darkness and laughter to the stage. At some very special times, you brought both. RIP.

Click here to link to all stories featuring Andy Gray on All Edinburgh Theatre.

Andy Gray after receiving the Stage Award for Acting Excellence. With Thom Dibdin (left). Fringe 2015.

ENDS

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Comments (4)

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  1. Gareth Jacobs says:

    Thanks so much, Thom, for the excellent overview of one of my favourite people, now, very sadly, no longer with us. I had some contact with Andy at the King’s and at my former workplace at the Lyceum. A man indeed of many talents and for me, the personification of “personable”. A great character – both inside and out. He will be missed by me and many, many others. Thank you.

  2. Willie McEwan says:

    A great tribute to The great Andy Gray his life deserves a book written, a play performed and a film made to capture this very very special mans very talented career

  3. Graeme Baillie says:

    While we share our memories and stories Andy will live on. And he will live on for a very long time! But we will all miss a giant of Scottish theatre. RIP.

  4. Jackie Dow says:

    Lovely tribute to Andy

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