New Phil Differ production ‘inspired by childhood memories’

Phil Differ
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The play Double Feature, which is now touring Scotland, started life as a monologue entitled The Middle Aged Man’s Guide to the Ten Greatest Movies of All Time.

I couldn’t find a middle-aged man willing to take it on as a performance piece so I re-named it Moving Pictures and re-wrote it as a three-hander for Oran Mor’s A Play, a Pie and a Pint where it ran for a week before successfully transferring to the Lemon Tree Theatre in Aberdeen for another seven day run.

Round about this time last year, I heard from a mutual friend that Andy Gray and Grant Stott were looking for a two-hander to perform at the Edinburgh Festival. Andy and I go way back, we had worked together on Naked Video and I knew he, like me, was a big fan of movies and location catering. So, we arranged to meet up, four of us, Andy, Grant and I plus director Ryan Dewar and spent an entire evening talking about favourite scenes from favourite films and the joys of our childhood cinema going experiences.

We were all singing from the same hymn sheet. Everyone got what it was all about, the enthusiasm was infectious so off I went and the re-writing process began. Two weeks later we were in rehearsals with the first draft of the new two hander version – now named Double Feature – and then the fun began.

Rehearsals were a laugh, too much of a laugh. I had to force myself to leave so that the guys could get on with their work. We were spending hours re-enacting scenes from our favourite films and basically playing like kids. On the serious side we also discovered that the more we delved into the lives of the two characters Mikey (Andy) and Davy (Grant), and the more complex aspects of their relationship began to reveal themselves, the more attached to them we became, eventually finding ourselves having a genuine affection for our two new pals.

So, what is Double Feature about? Well, if I was wearing my pretentious, playwright’s hat I would say it was about regret and redemption, speaking while wearing my punter’s hat I would describe it as a homage to the films I loved as a child and the cinemas in which I saw them.

The play is set in the projection room of an old cinema, the cinema the two characters attended as children, which is currently being demolished. As you would expect, the room is strewn with the sort of debris you would expect to see in such a place, projector, film reels/cans and old posters.

Listen out also for the liberal sprinkling of great theme tunes throughout the performance.

Anyone attending can expect to witness tributes to epics like The Alamo, Where Eagles Dare, The Great Escape and hear tales of such Hollywood giants as Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston and Angus Lennie (Wee Shughie out of Crossroads).

Where did I get the idea from? My love of films goes all the way back to childhood. I was brought up in Kilsyth, a typical mining town in west-central Scotland, the cinema was the focal point of my existence. More important for me than school or church it was here I learned good from bad, right from wrong. Where my heroes lived. No doubt about it, my personality was at least in part shaped by the films I watched.

A genuine excitement swept the town when a big film was coming. I would take a detour on the way home from school to the King’s Cinema to look at the poster and the lobby cards – the ‘wee pictures’ – that surrounded it in the display cabinet by the main door.

This was the age of the epic, Ben Hur, Spartacus, Zulu, watching these films I experienced total involvement. I was absolutely caught up in the story, I never just watched the film, I was absorbed by the film, totally caught up in the story. And if the film had a sad ending, the goodies all got killed? I would analyse it, go over it again and again, try to work out if there was anything the good guys could have done to reverse the outcome.

I still fondly remember the excitement of queueing up outside the King’s Cinema to see Jason and the Argonauts. They might look pretty basic now but at the time, Ray Harryhausen’s special effects were absolute state of the art. Of course, I didn’t know what special effects were, I thought the fighting skeletons and statues coming alive were real.

It wasn’t just the films I loved, it was the whole magical experience – walking through the extravagantly tacky ornate gates, being almost knocked out by the smell of disinfectant emanating from the toilets, buying my ticket and being unable to pass the confectionery counter without succumbing to the temptation of an iced drink/bar of pink nougat combination.

Then there were the people who worked there, the glamorous (to me) women in their sexy (to me) uniforms selling Cornish Mivvis and Kia-Ora orange drinks, the manager/projectionist and of course, the obligatory psycho with the torch. To me, these people were on the first rung on the ladder of show business.

The local cinema was another world, a technicolor escape from an otherwise grey existence.

That’s why writing Double Feature was a labour of love. It gave me the excuse to delve back into those fantastic times and re-examine the films that had a big impact on me and try to discover why.

The play is also about friendship, long lasting friendships and the problems that can come with them. Like most friendships that start in childhood and continue into adulthood liberties are taken, presumptions are made, tensions exist and these issues are explored too. From the outset we know that it was trips to their local cinema that brought this pair together, is there a danger that the same place could tear their friendship apart?

Double Feature runs at approximately one hour, the second half of the evening consists of a Q and A session, invariably the entire audience return for this. It was during this section of the evening that the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles threw up one of the most surprising and funniest moments of the tour.

Andy – who does an excellent Sean Connery as James Bond – demonstrates this in the play. During the Q and A, a voice from the audience complimented Andy on his ‘excellent Roger Moore’. Slightly confused, Andy peered into the audience only to realise that the disembodied voice belonged to Jason Connery, Sean’s son and as it happens a good friend of Andy’s who had come along unannounced to see his old pal in action.

Phil Differ’s Double Feature starring Andy Gray and Grant Stott is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 May. For further information and tickets go to https://gildedballoon.co.uk/double-feature-tour-dates/