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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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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Blythe Duff in Ciara, Edinburgh Festival Fringe preview

Blythe Duff at the CATS awards Pic Colin Hattersley
Published in Edinburgh Festivals Magazine

FOR 21 YEARS, Blythe Duff was hardly away from our television screens. As DS Jackie Reid, she was the longest serving cast member in Taggart, itself one of the UK's longest-running police series. After such an innings, you wouldn't blame the East Kilbride-born actor if she decided to live off the royalties or accepted nothing but high-profile screen work. But that's not Duff's style.

Her first love is the stage and, in the past couple of years, this least starry of actors has been back on the studio-theatre circuit where she began. She has set up her own company, Datum Point, and turned in a series of top-notch performances in the most intimate of spaces.

In 2011, she was nominated for a CATS award for her starring role in David Harrower's Good With People in Glasgow's lunchtime theatre season, A Play, a Pie and a Pint. And in this year's CATS, she was named Best Female Performer for her role as a husband-killer in Rona Munro's Iron, produced by the tiny Borders company Firebrand.

"Don't get me wrong – my bank manager's face is tripping him," she laughs. "There will come a point when I'll have to go out and earn some money. I think it's just because I've been interested in the writers I've been working with and they tend to be a bit more studio. I've really enjoyed being part of the Traverse Theatre again and, now it's come round to its 50th anniversary, it feels right and timely that I'm going back to rediscover what I loved when I started out."

She continues: "I don't know that I could ever have sat back after Taggart. I like to work and I like to remind myself of why I enjoy the business. Does something inspire me? Do I feel creative? The reason I could continue to do Taggart for 21 years was because I had an input, so it kept me hungry to keep the character buoyant. It's about that creative process and that's the thing that still drives me."

It was thanks to her part in Good With People, which subsequently played on the Fringe and in New York, that she is back in Edinburgh this summer in Ciara. She and playwright Harrower, the author of Knives In Hens and Blackbird, hit it off so well that he wrote the new play specially for her.

"Good With People was the first time our paths had crossed," she says. "I had been in a bit of a Taggart bubble so I wasn't even massively familiar with David's work. Now that I have caught up, I can totally understand why everybody falls over themselves. To have somebody of his calibre writing with me in mind has just been lovely. He runs wee moments past me and says, 'Do you think she would say this?' It's nice that I've had as much input."

In this one-woman show, a centrepiece of the Traverse's Fringe season, Duff plays the grown-up daughter of a Glasgow gangland crime lord. Although he is now dead and she is pursuing a profitable career in her own right as a gallery owner, she is not able to escape her family's dark past as cleanly as either of them would have liked. It's as if Ciara is an embodiment of a city that has morphed from razor-gang central to cappuccino capital without stopping to reflect.

"David came to me and said, 'I want to write something about the changing face of Glasgow, and I want to tell it through a woman's eyes,'" says Duff. "She's rooted in a criminal past but she's at one remove from it. This is a well-groomed, well-healed, sorted business lady who understands her game and knows how to handle the world she exists in. Does that come from acumen or is it because of the way she's been brought up? To all intents and purposes, she has a very sorted life, but there's a lot of darkness that she has carried in a big Louis Vuitton trunk."

What Duff excels at is playing against expectations, creating a tension by expressing one emotion and behaving in a way that contradicts it. That could prove the key to unlocking a character who is so much in denial about her background. "You don't know you carry rage until that button is pushed," she says. "I remember years ago when I was younger and something happened that brought me to a rage and I thought, 'Oh my God, I didn't realise I was capable of feeling this.' I always think if you meet somebody in a really bad mood, none of us knows what's happened in that person's life and I always try and take one step back and give them the benefit of the doubt."

Will audiences be as forgiving to Ciara?

Traverse Theatre, 1–25 August (not 2, 5, 12, 19), times vary
From £6, Tel: 0131 228 1404
© Mark Fisher 2013

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