Brian Beacom

SCHOOLBOYS are horrible little bleeders, aren’t they?

They make each other’s lives a misery – especially those of their friends –with name calling, minor bullying.

And sometimes they commit a crime against their pals the impact of which lingers for 45 years.

That’s the theme of the first of the Oran Mor plays of the season, The Empty Charcoal Box.

The tragi-comic story tells of Billy Brewster and his two best friends, Eddie and Deansy and how a seemingly inconsequential event on their last day at school has had a life-changing impact on all of them.

Now at the age of 60, the trio are confronted with that age old question which illuminates the path to wisdom.

Should they look backwards to try to undo their mistakes, or forwards and try not to repeat them?

Gavin Jon Wright, stars as Deansy, with Ryan Fletcher as Billy and James MacKenzie as Eddie.

“My put-upon character is the butt of the jokes, labelled skinny, ginger and speccy,” says Gavin.

“As an adult, these sort of names look cruel but I guess when you’re at school the name-calling is almost carried out with affection.”

The trio are from Cumnock, a small town in Ayrshire, but the central character, Billy, leaves his pals behind.

“When he comes back he’s a writer/actor, and thinks nothing has changed. But it’s not the case. Billy can’t see this and assumes a wisdom.

“However, Eddie is the wise one. He really does understand philosophy but doesn’t show it off.”

The play looks at how experiences alter relationships. Did it make Gavin think about his own teenage life?

“Yes,” says the actor who grew up in the Lake District. “I was a ginger, Scottish, fish out of water. But the descriptions sort of gave you your role in this group of friends.”

Was he wordly16 year-old? “No, I was terrified,” he says, grinning. “I remember when we got our exam results and the year decided to go out and get drunk, using fake IDs.

“But at this time I looked about twelve. And although I got into the bar and someone managed to buy me a sneaky bottle of Becks, I knew I just didn’t fit in. I didn’t look the part.

“So I left the bar, went to the garage and bought a can of Irn Bru and a caramel bar and went up the road.”

He adds, smiling; “Life then was about watching football. I thought ‘I’ll go out when I’m older.”

How strange is it to meet school friends now? Can we still connect? Have we changed so much in between times?

“That’s a really interesting point. It happened to me recently when I went to a school friend’s wedding.

“What happens in the beginning is you sort of revert to the role you had at school.

“Then you realise that’s stupid and you don’t have to defer to others anymore.”

He adds, laughing; “And you realise some people are still cracking the same jokes they did when they were at school.”

Some friendships last forever. Some don’t. Some change. Some teenagers go on to attend youth theatre and end up becoming actors.

Did Gavin’s school pals ever have an inkling the shy Scottish boy would one day become one of Scotland’s top theatre actors, shining recently at the Tron as the saucy Reverend in The Lying Kind?

Could they have imagined he’d one day play Spud in the iconic Trainspotting (a role he’s reprising this autumn)?

“Yes, and no. I’d always appeared in school plays but I think I was more surprised when I ended up becoming an actor.

“It was an idea that came to me from left field.”

One of Gavin’s old friends has never seen him act.

“He messaged and said he’s coming to Glasgow to see a concert. I told him I’d be working in Trainspotting at the time and he said he’ll come along.

“So here is this guy who last saw me act in a school play when I was fifteen and now he’s about to see me on stage in my pants doing Spud’s monologue.”

He adds, grinning; “It’s a bit weird, and I have to say I’m a bit nervous about that.”

* The Empty Charcoal Box, Oran Mor, until Saturday.