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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Monday, March 30, 2009

Alistair McGowan interview

Published in the Guardian © Mark Fisher

Alistair McGowan

IT'S THE fag end of the panto season and Alistair McGowan is on stage at the Wimbledon Theatre playing Baron Hardup to Gareth Gates' Prince Charming. In a typical volley of wisecracks, the impressionist knocks out spot-on renditions of David Beckham, Billy Connolly and Gary Barlow. "Would you like to see my Russell Brand?" he asks Cinderella, played by Joanna Page of Gavin & Stacey fame. "No," she replies.
Later on, when the prince confesses to swapping roles with his servant Dandini, McGowan acts like he's outraged. "I hate people who do impressions," he says. "It's a cheap trick."

He gets a laugh, of course, but there's a bitter truth behind the gag. McGowan, who made his name with Ronni Ancona on The Big Impression, has spent the past four years determinedly earning a living from anything but mimicry. It's not that he's embarrassed by it – during our interview in a restaurant over the road, he tells a story about Richard Herring and almost unconsciously takes on the comedian's voice – but he reached a point when he wanted to do the thing he trained for at drama school.

By starring in Shakespeare's Measure For Measure, which tours to Aberdeen next month, he is fulfilling a life-long ambition. "I've always wanted to do a tour, I've always wanted to do Shakespeare and always fancied doing something that wasn't comedic," says the 44-year-old. "So this job ticks a lot of boxes."

As a student at Guildhall School of Music and Drama – where he was a peer of Ewan McGregor and Daniel Craig – he always assumed he would go on to enjoy a career in straight acting. In fact, he took a 15-year diversion, by way of Spitting Image, Dead Ringers and Only An Excuse?, and only recently extended his range to include roles in TV's Bleak House, the RSC's Merry Wives: The Musical and the West End run of Little Shop Of Horrors. He also directed students in Noel Coward's Semi-Monde.

After all that, he is planning a live stand-up tour later this year that will be "suffused with impressions", but only after his most challenging straight role yet. Working with the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, he is taking on the part of the Duke of Vienna, Shakespeare's enigmatic hero, who leaves his city under the command of his deputy, only to return in disguise to keep an eye on how things are progressing without him.

"This is going to be a big challenge for me, which is why I wanted to do it," he says. "I've not yet done anything that didn't have comedy in it. That will feel very strange, because laughter is a great pat on the back. But comedy is a difficult business, and if you can time a comic line, you can time anything. It's not about being validated, but it is about being challenged."

Classical theatre has its own challenges, of course, but McGowan insists the basic job remains the same. A sketch show requires all the qualities of conviction and empathy that any actor needs. It was not merely because of his ear for a voice that The Big Impression won five prestigious TV awards at the start of the decade.

"To do a good impression on television was an actor's job," he says. "You got the voice right, but you had to understand how the person thought and why they moved and spoke the way they did, which means you get inside their head. What we did in our show was inhabit people. When we did Sven and Nancy, they became a couple. They weren't just impressions, it was about the relationship between two people. Similarly with Posh and Becks; why those sketches worked so well was they were about almost any couple. They were about the agonies and delights of being in a relationship."

Not only that, but having taken the study of speech variations to such a high level, he understands how much diction contributes to our understanding of character, time and place. To have an ear "attuned to the nuances of language" is an advantage as he tackles Shakespeare for the first time. "I watched Easy Virtue recently and there was only one performance that really let the words speak," he says about the big-screen treatment of the 1920s Noel Coward play. "They were not enunciating properly. A lot of them try to do it in a modern, casual way and you can't do that with Coward."

When in the middle of Cinderella he asks, "Don't you want to know me for who I am?", it is a line not said entirely in jest. There was a time when McGowan used his impressions as a shield, a way of deflecting attention away from himself. So adept was he at absorbing the mannerisms of others that the Mike Yarwood-style "and this is me" moment never came. He found that people had a voracious appetite for his impressions, but seemed to care little for the man behind them. That's why his favourite line in Shakespeare is King Richard II's: "Thus play I in one person many people, and none contented."

"That's true of all of us," he says. "We owe our sense of self to all these people who have informed us and given us something, whether that's through something they've taught us or things that we've picked up from them in terms of character and voice. We all absorb. I remember saying as a teenager, 'I don't know who I am', but of course you don't; you never do. We're always changing – I hope. The people I'm interested in are those who do change and who are open to influence.

"I don't think I'm hiding behind a character now, but maybe when we were doing the television series, yes, I was a very different person then. I was still unsure of who I was, artistically, and hadn't found my voice. That's why the last four years have been so useful. It's about not worrying what people think of you. That's when you know who you are."

The route to self-understanding, like the route to the classics, has been unusual, but he wouldn't have done it differently. "I'm very glad it's worked out the way it has," he says. "I've seen every side of the world of entertainment. But to be able to come back and do something like this – which I thought I was going to do in 1989 – is very satisfying. If you train as anything, you want to put those tools to use and it feels like I'm finally doing that."

After four years of theatre and TV acting, however, he is ready to take the creative reins once more and expects Measure For Measure to be the last dramatic work he does for a while. "I'm ready to be in control again, to take that responsibility and to relish it," he says. "It's wonderful doing a shared thing, to work with other people instead of just being in a room writing, but I feel ready for that again now. If the world allows it."

Measure For Measure, His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, April 14-18

© Mark Fisher, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Turner and Italy

Published in the Guardian © Mark Fisher

Turner and Italy

National Gallery Complex, Edinburgh
4 out of 5

To walk through the half-dozen rooms of this major celebration of the work of JMW Turner is to take a journey from Romanticism to modernism. The artist's fascination with Italy began long before he first ventured there, and seemed only to intensify as his death approached in 1851. By structuring an exhibition around his obsession, this show demonstrates not only Turner's development as an artist, but the development of landscape painting itself.

The earliest work includes a homage to Titian, a hand-drawn guide to sites to look for on his first Italy trip, and a mountain in Wales painted as if it were part of the Alps. By the time he made it to the country - an arduous journey he undertook seven times in 30 years - the artist was as thoroughly versed in Italy's classical heritage as he was sensitive to the distinctive qualities of its climate and topography.

It's a combination that leads most majestically to his vision of Rome from the Vatican, a picture that dominates the largest room. In a single audacious image, he pays tribute to Raphael (he was painting exactly 300 years after the renaissance artist's death), while capturing the city's classical perspectives to magnetic effect and simulating a hazy blue sky of compelling radiance.

Nowhere does he do skies better than in the dreamlike visions of Venice he produced in his later years. These misty precursors of impressionism bring the display to a stunning conclusion. But not before reminding us that, in total, Turner spent only three weeks of his life in Venice (always in September) and that the innovations of this "radical old man" had their foundations in his love for the classical elegance of Rome.

© Mark Fisher, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book of Beasts, Catherine Wheels review

Published in Northings © Mark Fisher

The Book of Beasts

ONE LOOK at Gill Robertson's face and you know you're in for a feelgood time. Before the show has even begun, the actor and mainstay of Catherine Wheels theatre company seems to have caught everyone in the eye and made all of us her friend.

In this adaptation of a children's story by E Nesbit (of Railway Children fame), she steps in and out of character, one minute drawing us into the tale as a wide-eyed narrator, the next playing a genial nurse in charge of a boy who would be king.

Like all children of his age, Lionel occasionally has to step up from his playroom games to take on new challenges. His challenge, however, is more onerous than most. When Ian Cameron's prime minister calls by with the news that the king is dead, Lionel, being next in line to the throne, has to take his turn as head of state.

Played by Scott Turnbull with the charm of a boy always trying his best, Lionel finds his new role an exciting, if tiring, adventure, although it takes him time to adjust to his new responsibilities.

Recalling the myth of Adam and Eve, Nesbit's tale is about the difficulty of resisting temptation. Having disobeyed the prime minister's instructions not to open the mysterious Book of Beasts, Lionel must deal with the consequences. When a raft of wild animals, including a hungry dragon, escape from the pages, causing havoc among his people, he must sort out the problem and learn to become a fuller, more responsible human being in the process.

Although the detail of how he defeats the dragon is a little rushed, Jo Timmins' production has a delightfully fluid, let's-pretend quality, relying on simple means and the audience's imagination to create everything from butterflies to hippogryphs.

David Trouton's lively score is to the fore (mixed rather too loud on the day I saw it), setting a rhythm the actors follow with choreographed precision. It's a simple story that could do with greater emotional range, but it's one enjoyed by audiences aged five and considerably older in a performance of much charm.

(The Book of Beasts visits Strathpeffer Pavilion, 31 March; Mallaig and Morar Community Hall, 22 April; Macphail Centre, Ullapool, 23 April; Eden Court, Inverness, 24 April; Lonach Hall, Strathdon, 3 May; Lossiemouth Village Hall, 7 May; Perth Theatre 25 May. See webiste below for full tour details)

© Mark Fisher, 2009

Curse of the Starving Class, Royal Lyceum review

Published in The Guardian © Mark Fisher

Curse of the Starving Class, Royal Lyceum review

The fridge sits centre stage. In any other American play, it would be packed with produce, a domestic symbol of the land of plenty. But in Sam Shepard's alternative vision of the postwar boom years, the cupboard is bare. His family of hard-bitten misfits out in the "boonies" of California repeatedly open the fridge in the hope of finding it full. The best it brings forth is a bag of artichokes.

Even in the most socially conscious Arthur Miller drama, life never looked so threadbare. Shepard's vision is altogether more bleak. The radio jingles that introduce each scene in Mark Thomson's production sing a hymn to consumerism, but this family, bound together less by affection than by violence, can scarcely make it from one meal to the next.

With a grim echo of our own credit crunch, they are living beyond their means, ever vulnerable to the coyote-like profiteers circling the house ready to take their prey. Their hopes for a better life are desperate and delusional.

There is much to commend in the production. Carla Mendonça is brilliantly unnerving as a mother made emotionally numb by brutal circumstance. As her alcoholic husband, Christopher Fairbank is scarily plausible, at once pathetic and dangerous. And Alice Haig is excellent as the droll daughter, her intelligence showing up the lumbering brawn of Christopher Brandon as the son.

Together they create moments of startling theatricality, whether it's Brandon urinating on his sister's homework, carrying a live lamb on to the stage or walking naked across the room. But it also comes across as an uneven piece of writing, compelling one minute, drifting the next. The overly naturalistic presentation diminishes the play's political and dramatic sense of purpose.

© Mark Fisher, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ross Noble interview

Published in Scotland on Sunday © Mark Fisher

Ross Noble interview: A noble calling

IT'S THE end of January and Ross Noble is stretching his comedy muscles on a warm-up date in Tasmania. Coming offstage still full of energy – with plans to watch a dodgy David Hasselhoff comedy before the night is through – he is cheerful and chatty, although he does tell me of his concern for his wife Fran and their new baby daughter Elfie, at home on their farm in rural Victoria, Australia.
"They're safely at home at the moment," he says. "Well, I say safely at home: I got off the plane and then rang my wife to see how she was doing and if the baby was happy; and a massive bush fire had kicked off at the end of our road. All of the loca

Scarcely a fortnight after our conversation, this turns out to be no joke. The bush fire intensified and the farm, with its three pet cows and idyllic views of kangaroos, possums and wombats, is razed to the ground. Noble and his family lose everything. They retreat to St Andrews on the outskirts of Melbourne, relieved not to have been among the 200 dead.

Calling up an Australian radio station, he describes the events as "apocalyptic", but admits he is "incredibly lucky". "It's just stuff that we have lost and that really doesn't matter," says the Geordie comedian. "But there are a lot of people who aren't in a position where they can just start again or aren't insured. Where we are there's nothing there. Even for people who were ready, it was just too much."

It is ironic that only two weeks earlier Noble had been telling me how, at 32, his life is finally on an even keel. "For years all I did was do gigs," he says. "My whole life was just: get up in the morning, travel to the next gig, kill time until I was onstage and whatever happened on the way would be fuel for the gig. That was my whole existence. But of late I just took some time off. I've actually got a life now. I probably work harder than I ever have – I do as many gigs – but I've learned how to do other stuff. My shows have got better because of it."

With any other comedian, you could be certain that an event as dramatic as a house burning down would form a central part of their set. But with Noble, there is no such certainty. A master of the improvised digression, he never does two shows the same.

"It's quite funny with the Edinburgh show," he says, recalling a memorable Playhouse night during which, among other things, a fight broke out in the stalls. "At that gig someone put their shoes on the stage because they'd done it at the previous gig. Something happens in the show, then a year later you go back to the place and people are making reference to it. If you're not careful it can become an episode in a 10-year soap opera."

Noble, who's been doing stand-up since the age of 15, reckons it's all he's good for. "That's the sole purpose for my brain," he says. "It's my brain's primary function. If I was doing that and at the same time I had to diagnose illnesses, we'd have a big problem. All my brain has to do is process nonsense. When you look at it that way, it's less impressive."

It's a philosophy that translates onstage into a carefree love of living in the moment. "It's not like a film where you can re-edit, take a different angle or change the pace of it," he says, having just done a one-off riff about gassing dolphins with hose pipes. "It happens and then it's gone."

With such variety from night to night, what is Noble's definition of a good gig? "It's when I'm firing on all cylinders and I make myself laugh," he says. "If the audience is entertained, that's a good show; a great show is when I've been laughing as much as they have. When it feels more like play and you feel you're not following the rules." v

Ross Noble's Things is at Aberdeen Music Hall, Tuesday; Eden Court, Inverness, Wednesday; Perth Concert Hall, Thursday; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Thursday until Sunday; Edinburgh Playhouse, June 1

© Mark Fisher, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kyoto, A Play, a Pie and a Pint review

Published in The Guardian © Mark Fisher


3 out of 5

Oran Mor, Glasgow

David Greig has long been fascinated by the contrast between public and private. His characters are always finding themselves in airports, stations and hotel lobbies, places where no one feels at home. This is how it is for conference delegates Lucy and Dan as they stumble into a chilly hotel room in a former communist state for a night of illicit sex.

Since the first frisson of attraction passed between them in Kyoto during a UN meeting, the two have been as sexually repressed as the characters in a Victorian novel. Their 10-year relationship has been defined by negotiations, banquets and presentations, a world in which they feel infantilised and ncapable of developing ordinary human contact.

They project this sense of alienation on to their fellow delegates, whom they regard less as human beings than as nation states. "Nigeria are in twin beds, sharing," says Lucy in a line typical of Greig's wry eye for the surreal. At 30 minutes, Kyoto covers a surprising amount of ground, but underplays the politics of international relations. Although less charming than 2007's Being Norwegian, a kind of companion piece, it is amusingly performed by Matthew Pidgeon and Vicki Liddelle. The first of five joint ventures between A Play, a Pie and a Pint and Edinburgh's Traverse, Dominic Hill's production provides a thoughtful lunchtime diversion.

© Mark Fisher, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Dundee Rep review

Published in The Guardian © Mark Fisher

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

4 out of 5

Designer Philip Whitcomb places Edward Albee's compellingly ghastly drama in the centre of a wasteland. All around the book-lined New England residence of George and Martha lie mountains of black rubble, littered with discarded liquor bottles beneath a cloudy night sky.

This post-apocalyptic vision is a metaphor for a dysfunctional marriage. But more than that, it locates this 1962 play in the era of the cold war. George and Martha are superpowers, forever squaring up to each other, stockpiling their emotional armouries and playing lethal games of brinkmanship. They save themselves only through the threat of mutually assured destruction. Their younger house guests, Honey and Nick, are the token figures to be fought over, bullied and discarded.

The cold-war mentality extends to the despair at the heart of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Like the atomic-bomb generation, these are characters with a profound fear of the future, their childlessness symbolising an inability to move forward. With no prospect of hope, their only option is to turn on each other.

Those sentiments resonate in our own doom-laden era, but this wouldn't be a great play if it didn't transcend its roots. Happily, James Brining's superb production shows it at its best. With a sure-handed sensitivity to the ebb and flow of comedy and vitriol, he makes us savour every minute of a long, brutal night.

With her Elizabeth Taylor hairdo, Irene MacDougall is on masterly form as Martha, switching from sexy to lascivious, charming to ferocious, fearful to vicious so frequently that she is impossible to pin down. In brown cardigan and spectacles, Robert Paterson is similarly mercurial, his fusty demeanour making his violence seem all the more warped. But their fireworks fail to obscure the subtle performances of Gemma McElhinney and Alan Burgon as they make the journey from repression to release.

© Mark Fisher, 2009

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Peter Pan, Visible Fictions review

Published in The Guardian © Mark Fisher

Peter Pan, Visible Fictions review

Platform, Glasgow
4 out of 5

JM Barrie's 1904 classic novel expresses troubling psychological ideas through the lightest of means. But, ironically, the story of a boy who can fly is frequently grounded by Edwardian whimsy and heavy-handed staging. For 21st century tastes, the middle-class children can seem cloying rather than adventurous, while the effort of recreating a Bloomsbury town house, a pirate ship and the land of the Lost Boys can weigh a production down.

None of this applies to Douglas Irvine's sprightly staging for his own Visible Fictions company, a collaboration with the Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis, where the production has played to acclaim. By freeing himself from the constraints of naturalism - an all but empty stage and casting that pays no regard to gender or even species - the director puts the playfulness back into Barrie's story and, in doing so, lets the darker themes about innocence and ageing hit home more powerfully.

The third part of this collaboration is Italy's Massimo Arbarello, whose shadow puppets are operated by the six actors and projected on to a screen. Introduced upon our arrival into Never Land, the technique initially threatens to sap the actor-centred energy built up in the opening scene. But by gradually blurring the boundary between puppet and performer, such as when three silhouetted pirates appear to drag Suzanne Donaldson's 3D Wendy across the stage, Irvine uses it as another example of the imaginative transformation at which children, and theatre, excel.

In this present-tense world everything is as fleeting as a shadow (no wonder Jon-Paul Rowden's lithe Peter so easily loses his) and so much more enjoyable than the earthbound perspective of adulthood. Whatever the "two wet things" were in Wendy's eyes, there were two in mine as well.

© Mark Fisher, 2009

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart interview: Tramping the boards

Published in Scotland on Sunday © Mark Fisher

Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart interview: Tramping the boards

SURPRISINGLY for actors born within two years of each other in the neighbouring counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire, the 2000 blockbuster X-Men was only Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart's second professional collaboration. Prior to that, they had shared a brief scene or two in the premiere of Tom Stoppard's Every Good Boy Deserves Favour in 1977, but had otherwise pursued independent careers, albeit with a startlingly similar mix of high-brow and popular.
Where one played Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek, the other played Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings. Where Stewart's CV includes Prospero, Macbeth and Claudius, McKellen's boasts King Lear, Richard III and Iago. And where Stewart is a sex-mad egotist writing a dire film script, McKellen is a pretentious thesp who treats every banal idea as if it were a profound revelation – that is, according to their brilliant self-parodies in Ricky Gervais's Extras ("The rather appalling thing about that," says McKellen with typical modesty, "is how close to me that parody is.")

With track records like that, it would have been a thrill if either actor had been cast in the UK tour of Waiting For Godot that kicks off this week in Worcestershire and reaches Edinburgh in April. That both are starring in the Samuel Beckett classic is a heady thought indeed. Even the actors themselves think it's a coup. "It's the most thrilling prospect," says Stewart. "Dream-casting barely begins to describe it."

The high-profile line-up doesn't stop with McKellen and Stewart. The production also stars Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup, box-office draws in their own right. "We can't believe our luck," says McKellen, who made sure he saw Stewart's brilliantly chilling Claudio in the RSC's Hamlet as well as catching Callow's panto turn as Captain Hook before rehearsals began.

Rewind to the opening X-Men scene. The telepathic Xavier is rooting round in Magneto's head for information. "Whatever are you looking for?" says McKellen. "I'm looking for hope," says Stewart. A decade later, the dialogue is oddly similar, but their relationship has taken an existential twist. In 2009, when McKellen's Estragon asks "What do we do now, now that we are happy?" Stewart's Vladimir replies: "Wait for Godot."

It was that kind of elliptical remark that prompted the character actor Robert Morley to complain that the success of Waiting For Godot in 1955 was "the end of the theatre as we know it". In a way, he was right. John Osborne's Look Back In Anger, which was staged a year later, was much celebrated at the time, but in retrospect it is Waiting For Godot – the play voted the most significant of the 20th century in a National Theatre poll – that stands as the greatest challenge to convention. For McKellen and Stewart, who both saw the play at a formative age, Waiting For Godot has always been an inspiration and never a threat.

"I caught up with it on its post-London tour at the Opera House in Manchester during a vacation from university," says McKellen, who'll be seen later this year in the remake of The Prisoner. "It all seemed perfectly entertaining to me and I've always thought it was. Perhaps the British establishment were not prepared to allow an Irish writer who wrote in French to be the person who transformed English-speaking theatre. It was a real shake-up from the sort of plays that the West End was harbouring at the time. They all had their sell-by dates, but Beckett seems to be writing about something more than a particular moment in time."

At around the same period, Stewart had moved to Bristol to train at the Old Vic theatre school and it was there he saw a production of Beckett's play starring an unknown actor by the name of Peter O'Toole. "I came out of the theatre reeling with excitement, amazement and puzzlement, knowing that something remarkable had happened," he says. "I promised myself that one day I would seize an opportunity to be in that play. Well, 50 years went by!"

In those 50 years, Stewart worked his way through the acting ranks with a mixture of TV (I, Claudius, an early crack at Claudius, the odd Play for Today) and theatre standards. "I remember seeing his Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice and thinking it was the best I'd ever seen," says McKellen.

It was landing the part of the captain of the starship Enterprise that changed everything for Stewart – which makes it all the more remarkable that he nearly turned it down. "I agonised for five days over whether or not I should take this job because I had to sign a six-year contract and there was a lot of stage work I was planning to do," says the 68-year-old. "But I knew that if I turned it down I would always feel I had been cowardly. I would have considered something that was new, challenging, unknown, very strange and turned away from it. It was on that basis that I accepted it and it proved to be the right decision."

It turned out Captain Picard would open Hollywood doors for Stewart without denying him roles in his beloved theatre. "I do enjoy the diversity, it is true, but at the very core of it is my work in classical theatre and there's still a lot to be done there. I have a list that would keep me going for several years – Lear, Falstaff, Bottom, Shylock, Leontes – and, like Waiting For Godot, there are plenty of 20th-century classics I have not been in."

McKellen's ascent to stardom was faster. He'd been a high-flyer in student productions at Cambridge University and enjoyed three non-stop years of repertory theatre before his first West End role. "He was a star with the National Theatre company," recalls Stewart. "I remember seeing him as Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing and thinking he was dazzling. I was still struggling along with small parts and understudying when Ian was establishing himself as a leading man."

With their careers running in parallel but so rarely interlocking, it wasn't until 1998 that their friendship flourished. McKellen was starring in Ibsen's An Enemy Of The People, a National Theatre production directed by Trevor Nunn. The success in London prompted a tour to Los Angeles, where Stewart had made his home thanks to Star Trek. "I went to see it and Ian invited me back to the flat he was sharing with two other members of the company," says Stewart, who spent 17 years in LA. "We stayed up very late talking and that was when I found what an utterly delightful, fascinating and amusing fellow he was. Very soon after that we were thrown together in the X-Men and we had the most wonderful time on that."

"We're very comfortable in each other's company," agrees McKellen. "When we were doing X-Men we spent the long times waiting for filming reminiscing and laughing a great deal, so all that will be very helpful."

He means that all those months on set together helped develop a rapport that will enrich the onstage relationship of Estragon and Vladimir, infused as it is with echoes of music-hall routines and quick-witted back-chat, just as much as it is with a meditation on the meaning of life. "It would be difficult to undertake something like this with someone you hardly knew," says Stewart. "Ian and I do have a long history together, we do come from the same part of the world, and yes, there is a music hall element to Waiting For Godot. It is also a profoundly mysterious and philosophical piece. It's many things and we shall hope to expose all of them."

• Waiting for Godot, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, April 13-18

© Mark Fisher, 2009