John Hannah back at Fringe in 2015 after 25 years

Hannah starring in The Titanic Orchestra, which is coming to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. Picture: Contributed
Hannah starring in The Titanic Orchestra, which is coming to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. Picture: Contributed
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ONE of Scotland’s best known screen stars is to make his first stage appearance in his home country for 25 years at this summer’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

John Hannah is expected to be one of the biggest draws in the capital this August when he stars in a little-known Bulgarian play at the Pleasance Courtyard.

Hannah in Uncle Vanya last year. Picture: Alastair Muir/REX_Shutterstock

Hannah in Uncle Vanya last year. Picture: Alastair Muir/REX_Shutterstock

The 53-year-old, who returned to the stage in London last year after a six-year hiatus, will play a mysterious illusionist and showman in The Titanic Orchestra. He is the central character in the plot which unfolds when four tramps huddled together at an abandoned railway station are confronted by a top-hatted trickster.

The East Kilbride-born star, who will be one of the most high-profile Scottish actors to appear at the Fringe for years, will have to learn a host of magic tricks and optical illusions for the UK premiere of Hristo Boytchev’s play.

The director of the show, which will be staged in a venue with a capacity of just 320, says Hannah is already talking about his appearance at the Fringe as “a real homecoming”.

Hannah, who is currently filming in Canada, shot to fame when he landed one of the main roles in the box office sensation Four Weddings And A Funeral.

He is a stage actor of terrific presence and integrity

Joyce McMillan

He went on to star in The Mummy action films, romantic comedy drama Sliding Doors, in which he appeared opposite Gwyneth Paltrow, and Madagascar Skin, about an unlikely gay couple.

Television roles included the drama series McCallum, about a forensic pathologist, and the first adaptation of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels. Hannah worked with the play’s director, Russell Bolam, last year when he played the title role in Chekov’s play Uncle Vanya at the St James Theatre.

His previous production was also staged in London, the Australian play Riflemind, which was directed by the late Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hannah will be appearing at the festival for the first time since his days as a student at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.

He was virtually unknown when he made his previous stage appearances in Scotland in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including The Gorbals Story at the Citizens Theatre, The Zoo Story at The Tron and Communicado Theatre’s ­version of Carmen.

Hannah (centre) in an early stage role with the 7:84 Theatre Company. Picture: 7:84 THEATRE COMPANY

Hannah (centre) in an early stage role with the 7:84 Theatre Company. Picture: 7:84 THEATRE COMPANY

Hannah dropped out of school at the age of 16 to pursue a career as an electrician, but was urged by a colleague to study acting after developing an interest in performing with the East Kilbride Rep Theatre Club.

Bolam said: “John tells me he’s not done anything on stage in Scotland for around 25 years. He feels this is a real homecoming for him as such a long time has passed and he’s not been on stage at the Fringe since he was a student.

“We offered him the part of Uncle Vanya not really knowing if he’d be interested, as he hadn’t done any plays for quite a few years, but it turned out he was really hungry to get back on stage.”

Scotsman theatre critic Joyce McMillan said: “John Hannah’s iconic performance 20 years ago as the bereaved partner of Simon Callow’s character in Four Weddings And A Funeral helped define a historic moment of change in attitudes to gay partnerships in Britain.

“But he is also a stage actor of terrific presence and integrity, with an impressive track-record in both Fringe and mainstream theatre and his return to the stage in Scotland on this year’s Fringe can only add to the excitement of this year’s Edinburgh Festival.”

Curtain up: Big stars on smaller stages

John Hannah is the latest in a series of high-profile Scottish actors to grace the stages of the world’s largest arts festival.

The biggest star in recent years was Alan Cumming (right), who was lured back from Broadway by the National Theatre of Scotland for The Bacchae in 2008.

The show, adapted for the Edinburgh International Festival from Euripides’ classic by writer David Greig, marked the ”Bolam Perthshire-born star’s first stage appearance in Scotland for 16 years.

Two years later he was performing on the Fringe, in a short run of his one-man cabaret show I Bought A Blue Car Today.

Former Taggart star Blythe Duff has won plaudits for her theatre performances at both the Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival in recent years. Good With People, which saw the Glasgow-born actress play a hotel manager who realises a young guest bullied her son at school, went on to play in New York after a Fringe run at the Traverse. She went on to star in a solo play, Ciara, about a gangster’s daughter, which won her the best female performance prize at the annual “Scottish theatre Oscars”.

Last year, Duff (left) took centre stage at the Edinburgh International Festival, appearing in all three instalments of The James Plays, Rona Munro’s epic trilogy on the troubled reigns of three Stewart kings in 15th-century Scotland.

Bill Paterson, who appeared with Billy Connolly at the Fringe in the 1970s in The Great Northern Welly Boot Show, returned to the festival three years ago for a Traverse play, And No More Shall We Part, about a couple spending their last evening together. Paterson won the best actor award honour in The Stage newspaper’s annual Fringe awards for his performance as a man whose wife is terminally ill and is determined to take her own life at home.