Edinburgh Festival Fringe: My Festival — Paul Higgins

The Thick of It and Line of Duty actor on his new play This is Memorial Device, his memories of being in Black Watch, and the time he and Salman Rushdie got to look at Gene Kelly’s annotated script for Singin’ in the Rain

What are you doing at this year’s festival?

This is Memorial Device at the Wee Red Bar. Also, decrying the price of modest accommodation.

What do you most want to see this year and why?

I saw The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart yesterday afternoon, which I’ve wanted to see for a long time. It was brilliant – great, imaginative storytelling; lovely music and singing; and funny, too.

What’s your favourite place in the city and why?

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The Union Canal for walking into town; the Meadows, especially when the sun is out and the cherry trees are in blossom; the University car park/drill hall at Forrest Hill where we first did Black Watch. Also my dressing room in the Art College this year which is huge and

has the most spectacular view of the castle and the Old Town.

Paul Higgins. Pic: Contributed

Who do you most like spending time with at the festival?

I’ve had a great time this year with the Memorial Device team – a special bunch of creative people giving their all to the show and to each other. My wife and daughters have been up, and my older daughter is staying for a few days to catch some more shows. She and her writing and performing partner have had two hit shows at the Fringe in recent years, Hotter and Fitter, but they couldn’t afford to come this year because of the costs of venues and accommodation. Some school friends are coming to Memorial Device together later on, as are my brother, sisters and their families. The festival is great for meeting new people, too, and for reconnecting to folk I only see every few years.

What do you remember about your first ever Edinburgh festival appearance?

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A Wholly Healthy Glasgow by Iain Heggie, directed by Richard Wilson, at the Churchill Theatre as part of the International Festival. The cast was Gerard Kelly, Tom Watson and me. A local councillor said they found the show so distasteful they had to go home and have a bath. It was my first theatre job after drama school and I imagine I was not very good – too concerned with myself, my performance, what people might think of me.

What are the best and worst things that have happened to you in Edinburgh?

The reception for This Is Memorial Device has been special. Black Watch was the talk of the town, and a few other towns, for a while – seeing John Hurt sitting in the front row and realising we were about to mention him in the play was funny, as was his response (sadly, I can’t say why in a family newspaper). Gordon Strachan talking to us afterwards was exciting. The worst thing, I won’t go into here, either, but it was resolved amicably several years ago.

How was lockdown for you? Did it change you, and if so how?

I had a cushy lockdown. I like having free time (within reason) and my wife, Amelia Bullmore, was writing a TV series so we had money coming in. I did a lot of exercise, reading and writing. I wrote a blog about my experience, a couple of years before, of getting free from the grasp of alcohol. It’s at chapterthree.blog and I’ve been told by various people, friends and strangers, that it has helped them – as other people’s stories were a great help to me.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

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I’m a happily alcohol-free (4.5 years), yoga-practising (15 years), vegan (11 years) runner (30 years). I once looked for the toilet flush button with Salman Rushdie in Patricia Kelly’s house before she showed us her late husband Gene’s annotated score for Singin’ in the Rain.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Reach for my iPad, partly to check the weather but also to check everything else. It’s not a good habit.

And what’s the last thing you do before you go to bed at night?

Fill a glass of water. I always look out the bedroom window when I’m brushing my teeth at the goings on in the street and in other windows and wonder if people think that’s weird.

Thanks for the interview! We’d like to buy you a drink. Where are we going and what are we drinking?

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I had an Erdinger Alcoholfrei (my favourite lager) at the Blue Blazer last night, but, be warned, the women’s toilets have been out of order for months. I wouldn’t say no to a black Americano and a slice of vegan cake at Lovecrumbs on West Port. Maybe you should change this question to include any treat, in which case I’d have one of the delicious vegan ice cream options at Mary’s Milk Bar.

This is Memorial Device, Wee Red Bar, until 29 August (all shows sold out)