Chance decision brought John to the stage

THE single moments, the chance meetings that can change lives are the stuff of film and television scripts.

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John Stahl starred as Rickard Karstark in Game of Thrones
John Stahl starred as Rickard Karstark in Game of Thrones

Yet, while actor John Stahl has played out such stories in the likes of television drama Game of Thrones, STV's High Road and hundreds of theatre plays, he has also experienced such a moment first hand.

As a shy young boy in the tiny mining village of Sauchie in Clackmannanshire, just along the road from future Liverpool legend Alan Hansen, John fully expected to land work in a bank, or perhaps the local distillery where his dad worked.

Become an actor? No chance.

He certainly could never have imagined he'd one day be starring alongside Jimmy Chisholm and Dave Anderson in John Byrne's Uncle Varick, a reinvention of Chekhov - and touring Scotland.

"My life changed when I met Bob Edwards," he says of his former school drama teacher.

"In primary seven, we got the chance on a Thursday afternoon to do arts-based stuff, puppetry or drama or the choir. I couldn't do puppetry because I was handless, and I was too scared to stand up in front of an audience, so I chose the choir.

"However, the choir was over-subscribed, and it was deemed by alphabetical order I'd do drama.

"When I was 11, I found myself in rehearsals for Macbeth, playing three roles.

"Then the drama club went on to perform Hamlet or Harold Pinter plays. And I loved it."

The shyness wasn't entirely overcome but John, now 60 and living on the Isle of Lewis with his partner Jane, loved studying the human condition.

At 16, he applied to about 15 drama colleges and was rejected by all of them - except Glasgow.

On leaving drama school, television came calling, first with STV soap Garnock Way and then High Road, playing Inverdarroch.

"Filming nine episodes at a time was exhausting," he says.

"There was no time to act properly and the actors were always tired. And it came to show in the series."

But it was steady work and John made lots of great friends. However, he worked up the nerve to leave the show.

"I was asked by the producer if I wanted to be killed off, and I said no," he says. "I was disappointed in myself but I just wasn't that confident to walk away completely."

In 2001, John went to London and worked steadily over the years, landing work with the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare companies.

"I worked with Danny Boyle when he directed Frankenstein with Jonny Lee Miller and Ben Cumberbatch," he recalls of the 2011 experience.

"Danny was fantastic. I've never been able to understand the power of men to command First World War troops to come out of the trenches and attack, but Danny Boyle is a man you would do anything for. "

Television didn't forget John Stahl however, appearing in drama Glasgow Kiss and "a couple of Holby Citys". Then Game of Thrones came calling.

"When I went up for the pilot I was up against Ron Donachie, as is always the case, and didn't get it," he says.

"At the next audition, I lost out to James Cosmo. Then I landed the role of Lord Rickard Karstark. Yet, what I didn't know was I'd have to play it with a Yorkshire accent. "

John adds, grinning; "I was for walking away but my agent said (tough voice) 'Just do it!'. To access the accent, he reached into his psyche for inspiration and came up with the odd voice of former Coronation Street star Fred Feast.

"Fred wasn't even from Yorkshire, but that was the accent I decided to do," he says.

Now John is back working in Scotland, appearing alongside former High Roader pal Jimmy Chisholm in Uncle Varick.

Nineteenth century Russia is now sixties rural Scotland and John plays Sandy Sheridan, a pretentious art critic who returns from London to his Scottish country pile - with his new, much younger, wife.

IT IS a change from a recent production Stahl was involved in - at home in Lewis, he and Jane staged the panto at Uig Community Centre.

"Snow White and the Nine and A Half Dwarfs," he recalls.

"That's as many dwarves as we could pull together. I've got this dream of staging plays in Lewis, in a natural amphitheatre." His voice trails off. "One day . . ."

The school choir's loss is theatre's gain.

n Uncle Varick dates include East Kilbride Village Theatre, April 30, Eastwood Theatre, May 4, Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, May 13, Paisley Arts Centre, May 14, and Gaiety Theatre Ayr, May 20.

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