Features: Actress Leah MacRae combines songs and stories in new theatre production

Well hello Hootsman! In the last few weeks I’ve been out across Scotland touring my first ever one woman show – My Big Fat Fabulous Diary. It’s been a pretty exciting ride so far in showbiz and now I’m bringing the party vibes to you!

Leah MacRae.

More than a few years ago (no asking, thank you very much!), I was cast in The Karen Dunbar Show, and from then on, it’s been almost non-stop, with Gary Tank Commander, River City and lots more stage and screen roles mixed in.

I guess the idea for My Big Fat Fabulous Diary came from doing my first one-woman comedy show in 2014; 51 Shades of Maggie, which toured all over Scotland. It was brilliant and I learned so much.

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This is where I had my light-bulb moment, getting out on stage each night with cues and segways to music – it felt to me that Scottish audiences were looking for a good sing song – everyone was living for the night out – and y’know, we’re very sociable, I spotted how anytime there was a scene change set to music the audience would start dancing and singing along and I was like “god – it’s really missing some music!” So when I started writing my own show I knew, with just a wee bit of the ol’ classical training as a singer – I’m definitely adding in some bangaz!

I sang before I acted – when I was at school, we didn’t have a drama department so we did hunners of music. And I used to sing in cabaret and broadway- in-the-bar-type-things and I realised I was doing the chat between songs and folk were laughing. I kinda felt after doing Maggie and the musical cabaret that I could combine the jokes and the singing... Basically having your cake and eating it – that’s always good eh?

And then we have the diary, my diary – which is full of dirty funny stories about me, my life and everything I find mad or funny which I secretly use to cover up that stand-up absolutely terrifies me.

People have said for ages; “Leah, you just chat away all the time, do you know what I mean”. Aye! I do really enjoy laughing and messing around and people always said, “you should just do stand-up” and I’ve always stuck to my guns, which are, ABSOLUTELY NOT, stand-up is absolutely terrifying! I don’t know how any stand-ups do it, I take my hat off to all of them. Think about it for a second, we so often say stand-up looks so easy, just being yourself on stage. But NO! It’s terrifying! And the smaller the venue, the scarier it is. So, in the show I’ve got my diary in my hands, chuck in a couple classics – this is all my way of pretending to myself that I am not doing stand-up. And this show goes back to what I’ve always done. I’ve always sung, I graduated with an acting and performance diploma – and when I was 19 went into television.

So much recognition comes with being on the telly almost every night, it’s a bit of responsibility as well. People really love the show and come up often to say hello and grab a wee selfie – it is all very casual and friendly. Contrary to what some celebs say, it doesn’t feel intimidating. It’s not an invasion of privacy for me, it’s totally normal and a community kind of thing, a very quick and friendly passing moment. It’s always genuinely lovely when people come say hi!

In the show, I talk about all the jobs I used to do when I started out as an actor. Most of us do loads of different jobs between roles because it’s such a difficult industry. I did a lot of marketing when I was younger for nightclubs, and it’s like a superpower now – I remember it all. Things people wouldn’t expect an actress to know. Don’t put us in a box, we’re all multi-taskers! It just shows you that it actually does matter – every job you’ve ever done, even if you didn’t think it was for you and it annoyed you at the time, you’ll take those skills and use them in your next job. If you’re trying to get a break, remember the thing you’re doing while you wait for it can teach you so much. It’s all the hustle.

For this tour I’ve been buzzing all over Scotland with my pal Russell. We worked together 15 years ago doing PR for clubs on Sauchiehall Street, so we hit the towns on the tour, on our wee trotters into Largs, Inverness, Dumfries (Russell’s hame toon) chatting to people about the show. It’s funny to be promoting yourself though instead of a 50p drink.

The show is a very different side to me. The character on stage is a heightened version of myself, very different to Ellie in River City (who is not like me!) so it’s nice to go back on stage and have a good sing-song and get a bit bolshy and loud with lots of laughs. The whole show is very glittery, very bright and very colourful and bold. To be honest, Leah on stage is most similar to Gary Tank’s Julie’s look – all bright pink with glitter and bright colours (though poor Julie is very innocent compared to the girl on stage reading from her diary!)

Being on stage on your own is a very daunting thing but the more you do it, the more you get used to it. There’s pros and cons, it’s lovely to be on stage as part of an ensemble with all the lovely moments that happen, corpsing and those little asides – winding up your pals, funny things that happen are highlighted even more when you’re on stage. But being on your own and totally in control of the rhythm and beat of your piece of writing is actually pretty special. If I’m having an off night, I’m having an off night on my own. And if I’m having a great night, it’s gonna go off! No-one to stop me. I can make the show suit the people sitting in front of me – if they are really really enjoying something I can make it last longer, adding bits on and playing around with it – so each night is unique. I love using loads of physical comedy too, playing with situations and stories from the diary and that all comes from putting it all out there. On my boney-o!

It can quite lonely on tour on your own. Travelling by yourself, it can be quite daunting. Driving up to a big venue OF COURSE I do feel nervous because you know what you’re about to go and do. Sitting out the front in your car with the sound of your heart banging in your ears – going into the venue and seeing if everything’s good to go. But then, you get the reward. I talk about this in the show – before I go on stage EVERY TIME, I ask myself “why are you doing this?” And every time I take a bow, I say “This is why I do it.” I’ve made a huge big one woman comedy for everyone, not just for women, not for one guy (Russel!!) it’s for everybody to enjoy – loads of funny stories, incredibly funny songs (latte boy!), huge big ballads and I just want folk to come for a good night out, some good patter and a big bit of belly laughing.

My Big Fat Fabulous Diary is all about self belief – it’s about embracing who you are, not taking life too seriously, is about not listening to negativity, it’s about having a good time and doing what you want to do.

I was taught that when I was a really young actor, when you’re taking a bow, you’re not saying please clap for me, you’re saying thank you for being here with me, which is super sweet – and I’ll mean that every night of this tour!

Leah is at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh on 30 May, for tickets and more dates see www.leahmacrae.com