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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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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Lorraine McIntosh interview for Beautiful Burnout

Published in Scotland on Sunday

Interview: Lorraine McIntosh, actress, singer

WHEN Lorraine McIntosh takes to the stage for the premiere of the National Theatre of Scotland's Beautiful Burnout, she knows who her fiercest critic will be.

In the first-night audience will be Ricky Ross, her husband and fellow Deacon Blue bandmate, who is a voracious theatregoer - a three-times-a-week man, she says - and no mean director himself. A couple of years ago, he staged a mystery play at their local church and, according to McIntosh, made a tremendous job of it. So when it comes to her high-profile performance with the NTS, she knows he'll tell it like it is - just as she has always been frank with him about his music.

What's impressive is that McIntosh is on stage at all. Many people in her position - six top 20 albums before the age of 30 - would have accepted the riches of stardom and settled back for a quiet life. Even after seven years playing Alice Henderson in River City, she could have chosen to cruise or concentrate on bringing up her three children.

There was indeed a time when she found it easier to rest on her laurels than take a risk, but it didn't last. "I've taken enough easy options in life," says the 46-year-old, sitting in an airy Glasgow rehearsal room. "I had quite a number of years of never having to be challenged. You can get really lazy.

"When you are a success, you don't want to come down from that. You don't want people to think you're less successful than you used to be, even though you are - your band's stopped, you've stopped making records - and for a number of years, I thought, I'm not going to do anything, I'm just going to sit here in this position, and then you can't fail. It would be lovely not to fail, but I do fail in lots of ways and you realise it's not the end of the world."

McIntosh, who became the family carer at the age of 11 when her mother died of leukaemia, could not be held back for long. After a commercial tour of Mum's The Word and an experimental performance at Glasgow's Arches, she is acting on stage for only the third time.

It's a job she adores. "I do like doing things that scare me a bit," she says. "Financially, I probably don't have to be doing things, but emotionally I definitely need to. I get loads of time to be at home taking care of my kids, which I do love doing - and it has broken my heart that they're all off on summer holiday and I'm missing it - but at the same time, I do need to be challenged. I'm too young to retire."

Although she has sung in front of thousands - most recently at Glasgow's Hogmanay - she is in no doubt about which job makes her most nervous. "Doing things with Deacon Blue doesn't scare me at all, but acting is a whole new..." she breaks off, trying not to let the fear get to her.

Beautiful Burnout is about the allure of boxing for working-class boys. Bryony Lavery's play is also about the contradictions of a sport that can lead to brain damage in the name of entertainment. It horrifies McIntosh to think her own nine-year-old son would ever step into the ring. "When I was growing up in a wee mining town in Ayrshire, if there had been a boxing club, my brothers would have been in it," she says. "The parents see it as a really positive experience and in loads of ways it is.

"The gym is a place where there is a real atmosphere of love and care for these young boys coming up. Yesterday I watched a YouTube clip of Gerald McClellan, the world champ, who was put out by Nigel Benn (suffering brain damage in the process]. Watching him now, it's heartbreaking. When you watch these boxing fights, it's really exciting - even for someone like me who disapproves of it - but you see this guy and you think, this is the possibility at the end of all this."

For her role as the mother of a boy bitten by the boxing bug, she has taken inspiration from a woman she remembers from her Cumnock childhood. "She was the single mother of a boy I used to go out with when I was 18. The bizarre thing is, I then remembered he was an amateur boxer.

"She was a really fiery, determined, tenacious, ambitious woman. We were having a chat about our characters and what kind of things they did, and I said, on a Friday night my two friends come round with a half-bottle of vodka, we listen to records, dance and we have a wee cry. And that's what she did every Friday night. That was her letting off steam. I'd love to contact her."

The production is a collaboration with Frantic Assembly, the London-based company famed for its highly physical approach. Although McIntosh herself is not required to break sweat during the performance, she has been joining the rest of the cast in their vigorous daily regime. "They call them warm-ups, but they're work-outs," she jokes, looking all the more radiant for the exercise.

Mucking in with the rest of the cast like this comes naturally to a performer who, even at the height of Deacon's Blue's fame, always kept her feet on the ground. "I wish success had gone to my head a bit more," she laughs. "We were so bloody Scottish about it. I remember the first time we had an album go to number one and someone asked us how we were going to celebrate.

"There was almost a perverse pride in not celebrating. I think deep down there was a bit of a fear that if we made too much of it, it was all going to disappear. I was aware of where I'd come from, the people I knew, and life wasn't like that for them. When we started earning lots of money, it was quite difficult to say we're just going to do this for ourselves, because you're leaving behind people and you want them to share in it, which means trying not to make too big a deal of it.

"We were disappointing pop stars in that way. We had a great time, we had great fun and it was very intense, the eight years we had together, but I don't think intrinsically we changed. We were all fairly rooted people."

It is a rooted nature that has only strengthened with age. "I had to find out fairly young who I was, but as I've got older I've spent a lot of time trying to work out what I like and don't like about me, and what I'm willing to accept as me. Like everyone does, you mature, get a bit of wisdom and you look back and you think, when I behaved like that, that was stupid. I just think I know who I am and I don't think I can be shaken from that."

Beautiful Burnout is at the Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh, Wednesday until 29 August, 7.30pm

© Mark Fisher 2010

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Anonymous said...

Just been to the show last night, and it felt a little bit surprise to see a revolving stage, multi-screens' set, and many other stage gimmicks in a fringe show, yet the story was rather predictable and the performance felt fair bit stretched to make up the running time. It still is above average in comparison to what we normally get from Edinburgh festival fringe shows, but is a little disappointment as a NTS production.

Mark Fisher said...

Thanks for your comment. That's interesting. I'm seeing it tonight.