Æ Blog – Interview with the Gerard Kelly

Oct 29 2010 | By More

Scottish actor Gerard Kelly dies in London

Gerard Kelly, who has died, aged 51

By Thom Dibdin

Very sad to hear that Gerard Kelly has died of a brain aneurysm, at the age 51. He was a consummate panto-pal in his performances in the Glasgow King’s pantomimes, where I was privileged to see him on several occasions.

Watching him work an audience, familiar with his patter from the last ten years or more of repetition, and make that patter sound as if he was pronouncing it for the very first time – indeed, that it had only just come into his head that very second – was one of the joys of being a theatre critic.

I had the immense pleasure of interviewing him earlier this year before his appearance a the Edinburgh Playhouse in the Rocky Horror Show. He talked extensively of his appearance at the Traverse in the first production of the complete Slab Boys Trilogy. Here is the complete interview.

Have you seen the Rocky Horror Show yet?

I went to see it in Oxford two weeks ago when Biggins was narrating and I went in with great trepidation, thinking what the hell have I let myself in for, but I have to say that after two hours I stepped out and I had had a ball. I just thought what a great night out that was.

Do you have to learn the lines? As the narrator you are up there with the book.

You read it. I have learned it to be honest, but I will still take my book because the narrator, from the very fact that he is the narrator, is supposed to be reading. But you do have to familiarise yourself with it, so you are on top of it.

If you hadn’t learned it, and the audience are shouting things out, I that could be quite tricky of finding where you have to go next.

When did you first see the Rocky Horror Show?

I first saw the Rocky Horror show in London about ten years ago with Nicholas Parsons [as the narrator] and that actor that did the long running coffee adverts as Frankenfurter. And again that night I thought it was fabulous. I didn’t see the film when it first came out. I am just amazed about how much of a cult it is and the fact that the audience really do turn up in costume. Which is quite bizarre, especially somewhere like Oxford which is so genteel, and rolling hill England, and there are all these people sitting in stockings and suspenders. What the hell is going on here.

It is a bit of dressing up for you isn’t it?
No there isn’t – any stockings and suspenders – the show has changed an awful lot since I saw it ten years ago. Certainly the role of the narrator has. The narrator puts on things like hats and raincoats but I did have a vague memory of Nicholas Parsons at one point appearing in stockings, but that has certainly gone now from the show.

What a shame! Edinburgh doesn’t get to see my legs. I am sure that there will be relief all round the city.

How did you get into acting?

I started when I was 12, my drama teacher at school took me to a director, Lauren Henson, who put me in a commercial, he then suggested I should get an agent. So then at age 12 I started doing children’s film foundation films. Then. when I left school,  it just seemed to be the natural thing to keep going. My big break, I suppose was Donald and Sally, a play for today about a mentally handicapped boy. Then the most obvious one was City Lights in the mid-Eighties. Even now, more than 20 years later, people still talk to me about City Lights. I think it is astonishing. Sometimes people say things to me and I think they are talking like a foreign language and it turns out it is a line from City Lights that they have remembered and you think I said that once, 20 years ago, why would I remember that. So there is a lot of that.

Do you have snappy ripostes?

I used to. People would always say to me in the days of City Lights, “Where’s Chancer?” and I’d say: “Breaking into your house!”. Dougie Henshaw, the actor, said to me once, ‘I thought you were really remarkably witty yesterday, until I realised that you say that every day of your life, don’t you?” I said, ‘yes, every single day of my life I say it’.

It is a bit like when the queen makes that comment about sitting at home with one’s feet up watching the telly. I met her once, and she come out with that and I thought, god that was really disarming, it was only later when I went away that I thought she says that to bloody everybody, because she knows she is disarming, she knows exactly the power of that sentence.

You met the queen?

Oh yes, it was ages ago. At the VE night celebrations at Hyde Park. I had to go on stage and introduce somebody and later on there was a function where I was introduced to the queen and it was a very short conversation and not remotely memorable. I don’t think she regaled her friends with the story, lets put it that way – “oh that Gerard Kelly, he was a wag. We must have him around again for tea.”

You were in the Slab Boys

That was my first ever theatre job. Up until then, I had only done television – things like Juliet Bravo. I thought of these real actors as people who did theatre and I never did, because I never even went to Drama College, so I had this hang-up. Then I was offered the Slab Boys trilogy and it is that thing, when you are 23, you think this is the way the world works.

We opened at the Traverse, we did the three plays, nightly, and then on a Saturday we did all three. Then we transferred to the Royal Court, then we came back up and opened the first ever Mayfest at the Citizens. In my naivety I thought that was what happened when you opened plays. I wasn’t aware that I was in the middle of, what I think it is fair to say, was a cultural phenomenon. I just thought it was a nice wee play that we did, only later did I realise that this doesn’t usually happen.

I did become aware that this was dynamite. There were lines that you had. My favourite, and I still to this day remember, was saying: “Who cares whit you think sonny boy. Just you stand there and model that blazer” It just get huge reactions from the audience. I used to love the Saturday when we did the three, the moment when you got to Still Life and because the audience had been with you all day, you could literally get them to fall off their seats by raising an eyebrow. They were so up it, they so identified with the characters, they had been with you on this journey with you. Fantastic production, thoroughly enjoyed it.

There are very few plays I have done since that are as well written, by which I mean as well structured. The nearest thing I got to it was when Craig Ferguson and I did The Odd Couple. It is the exact same thing. When you are in the hands of a playwright who borders on genius, the thing is that it is literally does get funnier the longer it goes on.

The only thing I can say, and it happened in Slab Boys, and the only other play it happened with was the Odd Couple, was at one point Craig Ferguson would bring on the suitcase and slam it down and a voice in the back of my head would go: ‘oh my god we are at the end!’. We arrived there without me fully understanding how we got there. You just went on the journey and suddenly you went ‘Oh my god, it is the end! All right, lets finish it off’.

This is your twentieth year at the King’s pantomime.

The character has gone on a journey and somehow stayed the same. Years ago, the producer took me for lunch in the last week and said ah Kelly, I am very sorry, but we have had complaints, and I said ‘complaints?’ [in a horrified, utterly horrified tone of voice]. She said, you know you’re no doing the wee feather, I said sorry? She said, ‘people are complaining you’re no doing it!’

There are things that the audiences actually insist must go in every year. There is this collective groan goes up… Yes, it is that bit again, but I love that, I just love the relationship I have with that audience – which I have built up over two decades. It is the one thing I have said, even if I won the lottery, I would still do the panto, because I genuinely love it.

Is the Rocky Horror Show like pantomime then?

The energy of the show, the interaction between the audience and the actors is. It came across to me, when I saw it in Oxford, as a pantomime for adults. That is what I loved about it, I loved that same feeling of anarchy – it is not really anarchy but we are all pretending that it is. And it just looked to be great, great fun. It was just one of those you think ‘well….!’

The great thing about the narrator is you don’t have to go away for three weeks bloody rehearsal. You literally just turn up and do it. A half hour’s rehearsal for one day and then you go on. I will swan up next monday, do a sound check, and at eight o’clock you’re on, you are out there. There is a bit of me that finds that rather exciting. And there is another bit of me that goes, ‘oh what have you done! Why have you agreed to this!’

I think it will be great fun, absolutely great fun.

I have experience of standing there and saying things back to an audience. But I don’t think there will be any crossover with the panto. There are places you can go in Rocky Horror, that you wouldn’t dare go in a panto! And certainly places in the audience at a Rocky Horror that nobody in a pantomime would dare go. So I am looking forward to a new experience. It is seaside postcard smut.


This interview is Copyright © 2010 Thom Dibdin and Æ Annals of Edinburgh Stage. If you want to reproduce it in whole, in part or simply to quote from it, please contact me through the comment box at the end.


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