The Scotsman Sessions #261: Brian James O'Sullivan

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Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on, with introductions from our critics. Here, the actor Brian James O’Sullivan shares an extract from his as yet unperformed Glasgow-set play in which one of the two middle-aged characters, Janice, muses on her mother’s deferential relationship with the local priest

It was the tape sent by his auntie from Australia that changed everything for young Brian O’Sullivan, back in the mid-1990s. The tape was full of archetypal Australian songs; and although they weren’t the first songs young Brian had learned off by heart and imitated, it was his uncanny ability to capture the Australian accent and intonation that launched him towards a professional show business career.

O’Sullivan was born in Glasgow in 1987, and his family – just him, his Mum, and his Donegal-born Dad – lived first in Drumchapel, and then in more upmarket Bearsden. It was at East Kilbride ice rink, though, that Brian attended an audition for a short-lived 1990s talent show hosted by Michael Barrymore; and in a trice, still aged only eight, he was travelling to London to appear on the show, had found an agent, and – in competition with 400 other children – won the role of Oliver in Cameron Mackintosh’s iconic 1990s production of the musical, which played for three years at the London Palladium.

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It was an astonishing show business experience at such an early age; and ever since, almost without pause, O’Sullivan has been writing musicals and comedy sketches and songs, and performing them at every available opportunity. His father taught him to play piano and accordion, which he does entirely by ear; and when he left school, he took up a place on the Contemporary Theatre Practice course at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

O’Sullivan also had an interest, since childhood, in the world of Irish traditional dance and music, and after he graduated he toured the world for several years with an Irish band, before finding a theatrical home at A Play, A Pie And A Pint in Glasgow, where he appeared in, and provided music and lyrics for, some of the DM Collective shows created by the late David MacLennan and a group of young writer-performers — living newspaper-type cabaret shows, with strong political themes. Soon after, he was head-hunted to join the National Theatre of Scotland company for The James Plays; and in the last half-decade, he has built up an ever more impressive reputation as a writer, performer, songwriter and musical director, working on shows that range from Dundee Rep’s brilliant touring production of Brecht’s Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, to Stuart Hepburn’s hugely successful Chic Murray tribute show, A Funny Place For A Window, set to be revived again during the 2021 Edinburgh Fringe.

O’Sullivan has also become famous on the Scottish theatre scene for his podcasts exploring the lives and thoughts of key players in Scottish theatre, and for a series of podcasts and short videos featuring his characters Uncle Frank and Janice, a pair of forward-looking and broad-minded but slightly bewildered middle-aged Glaswegians trying to move with the times. In this extract from O’Sullivan’s as yet unperformed play about the two characters, Janice muses on her own mother’s deferential relationship with the local priest; and by implication, on how attitudes to religion have changed, in Glasgow and beyond, over the last half century.

For more about Brian James O’Sullivan, see

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