Budgie tale won't put Steven and Iain in a flap

THERE are no guarantees when it comes to producing hit plays.

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  • Steven McNicoll, left, and  Iain Robertson will star in  Frank's Dead, while below is  Steven in Legit with  Jordan Young
    Steven McNicoll, left, and Iain Robertson will star in Frank's Dead, while below is Steven in Legit with Jordan Young
  • Steven McNicoll, left, and Iain Robertson will star in Frank's Dead, while below is Steven in Legit with Jordan Young

But when you start with casting the likes of Iain Robertson and Steven McNicoll together, the chances of success soar immeasurably.

When you add an essence of Steptoe And Son, the classic containment comedy, then you believe Frank's Dead, by Stewart Thomson, really should have a chance of winning over an audience.

"This play has a lovely feel about it," says Steven, fresh from a hugely successful stint in Aladdin at the King's Theatre.

"It is really well written, touching and dramatic, but also funny, with a Galton and Simpson (the Steptoe writers) feel about it.

"You see, it is about people trapped in their circumstances. That is a premise that has worked so well in the past in TV sitcoms such as Porridge, Rising Damp and Steptoe."

Steven and Iain play brothers in the play, Kev and Neil, and the story revolves around a dead budgie.

Their late father once attempted to keep a budgie alive for the longest time and break the world record for budgie longevity, a record set in 1977.

Now one of his sons has dedicated his life to keeping his father's memory alive.

"It is really about how the two brothers can't really communicate," says Steven. "It is a Scottish story about how men can't open up and share their feelings."

Iain Robertson is one of Scotland's most in-demand actors, in theatre and television.

And Steven McNicoll has a cv that most actors would be envious of. The actor with a natural bent for comedy, has played the likes of the young Rab C Nesbitt on television and starred in sketch series Velvet Soup and sitcom Legit, alongside Jordan Young.

In theatre, he has appeared as Oliver Hardy to critical acclaim and more recently in The Shawshank Redemption at the Edinburgh Festival.

But Steven is also a talented writer, having written for television, radio and theatre, including an award-winning play about the life of Bela Lugosi. Four years ago he came up with his own Oran Mor play, The House.

Steven and Iain have worked on radio drama in the past, but never on stage.

"We have been having a ball during rehearsals," says Steven.

"Iain's been great to work with. It is fantastic to come across someone who is on the same wavelength. And he is very talented."

Steven is not slow to praise the talent of colleagues, singing the praises, for example, of the likes of David Tennant, whom he worked with at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in a 2006 production of Look Back In Anger.

"He's brilliant," says Steven. "He landed the job on Doctor Who towards the end of the run, and then phoned me up when he got on set, from inside the Tardis.

"He was so made up about it. And I'm glad for him, because he is such a great actor."

Steven has been seduced by acting since he was a youngster. "My first job came about when I was still at school. I joined youth theatre and the BBC would drop in when they were casting. And I was picked for a radio play.

"Thankfully, the work has come in ever since. I have never done anything else - I have been so lucky."

Last year he worked with his actress wife Francesca Dymond in CBeebies show Katie Morag.

"We were actually cast as husband and wife," he says. "And it was a great job, getting to work with the likes of Gail Watson, Barbara Rafferty and Sean Scanlan.

"But the thing about my wife is she is much smarter than me. She also works in publishing as a literary agent. She is really clever."

Steven rarely varies his modest, unassuming tone.

"I have never been after the big prize," he says of his acting career. "I'm happy to make a living in this business and to work. I have lived and worked in London, but I am Scottish and really love Scottish theatre."

Curiously, despite his talent and previous TV success, he has never been asked to audition for River City.

He says: "I don't know why," he says. "I haven't had a chance to see it for a while but I hear it's going great guns.

"And when I worked on Garrow's Law, filmed on the same set in Dumbarton, it did make me think I would like to cross over to the other side."

He is also not without a sense of humour.

For example, when asked how he feels about carrying the weight of the Oran Mor season, given that the first play in the run has to be good, to build the audiences thereafter (subtext; he and Iain Robertson can only kill the entire season) he laughs.

"Oh I hope that's not the case," he says, in mock dramatic voice. "But I think we'll be all right."

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