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Barbara Rafferty and Tony Roper clown around at the Theatre Royal, where they will star in Agatha Christie's Murder On Air from Tuesday to Saturday. Picture: Jamie SimpsonABOVE LEFT: Tony and Barbarara as Jamesie and Ella, with Gregor Fisher and Elaine C. Smith as Rab and Mary Doll in Rab C. Nesbitt
Barbara Rafferty and Tony Roper clown around at the Theatre Royal, where they will star in Agatha Christie's Murder On Air from Tuesday to Saturday. Picture: Jamie SimpsonABOVE LEFT: Tony and Barbarara as Jamesie and Ella, with Gregor Fisher and Elaine C. Smith as Rab and Mary Doll in Rab C. Nesbitt

Jamesie and Ella Cotter all dressed up to the nines? Can it be a Rab C.Nesbitt fantasy scene where Jamesie imagines he's James Bond, appears in white dinner jacket, and Ella dons cocktail dress looking all Miss Moneypenny?

No, it's not a dream sequence at all. Actors Tony Roper and Barbara Rafferty are indeed reunited once again - but Rab and Co. are not part of this performance package.

Instead, Tony and Barbara will be appearing on stage as the likes of Hercule Poirot. And the pair will be producing the poshest of accents.

The reason for this leap into a world of perfect pronunciation? Tony and Barbara are appearing in Murder On Air at the Theatre Royal.

The Agatha Christie Theatre Company are staging three 'gripping radio thrillers from the Queen of Crime', read in an authentic studio setting with live sound effects, in the style of their original BBC broadcasts.

Joining each performance will be two special guest stars accompanied by a full supporting company of players. And the special guest stars in Glasgow are...Tony and Barbara.

"My agent called me up and asked if I wanted to do an Agatha Christie play, set on radio," says Tony, smiling.

"And figured this meant I would actually be appearing on radio. It was only when they asked me to send them my measurements for a costume I realised this was a theatre production.

"And what I readily found out that this is a company who have bought up the rights to Agatha Christie's radio plays, with the idea of performing them on the live theatre stage."

Tony and Barbara will be appearing in three stories which were originally performed on the BBC. Personal Call and Butter In A Lordly Dish are not typical Christie whodunnits but feature miscarriages of justice and a desire for revenge.

The third, The Yellow Iris, which also appeared as a novel, involves Hercule Poirot's arrival at a restaurant unable to prevent a crime but swiftly unmasking the evil villain. Tony plays Hercule Poirot.

"It's done the way they used to do radio, performed before a live audience," he says of the concept.

"These plays were written originally as radio plays and aside from watching the actors on stage, the audience get to watch someone at the side of the stage doing the sound effects, like pouring tea, slamming fake doors, and using half coconuts for the sound of horses' hooves,

"And apparently watching him doing all this is hugely entertaining in itself."

Tony is excited at the idea of wearing a James Bond jacket and speaking in clipped syllables.

"I absolutely love Poirot and David Suchet's performance," he says. "I'm a huge fan, but I won't be doing my Poirot like his."

He adds, grinning and slipping into Roger Moore voice: "It will be a little more Roger perhaps. But what I love about this is that I won't be playing a Glaswegian. It means I get the chance to become very different characters and that for me is fantastic."

Much as he loves Jamesie Cotter and all that Nesbitt has provided over the past 20 years, Tony loves the opportunity to show his range.

The former van driver who worked alongside Billy Connolly can certainly offer a real range of voices, as evidenced in his work over the years in Naked Radio and the Only An Excuse? tour.

"I love the chance to do different accents," he says. "It reminds me what acting is all about."

Tony, has recovered from a recent prostate cancer operation, is delighted to be working with his screen wife, Barbara.

"When I heard Barbara was in the show I thought 'I've got to be better than her!' he says, laughing.

"And you know, I had this mental image of Cotter doing Poirot (he slips into Jamesie whine) "the wee grey cells are no' turning," and I had a thought of Ella trying hard to be posh. But this is an image I'll have to keep in the back of my mind."

The new acting world of evening suits and dresses looks promising.

"And we do three plays a night, which will be great fun," he adds. "But I have to point out we don't just stand at a microphone reading the words. We act it out. We play the part of actors performing a radio play in a studio."

He adds, grinning: "Although it is fair to say the great thing about these 'radio plays' in theatre is we don't have to learn the words."

Tony says audiences quickly buy into the notion of actors performing radio plays in theatre.

The idea has worked well in the past in theatre. Audiences get to see an actor change character through the flash of inflection or accent, rather than through costume, props and set.

And as you watch actors turn the pages of their scripts, an anticipation and excitement emerges, wondering how they will cope with next challenge.

"I can remember doing Naked Radio live and people forget very quickly you have a script in your hands," says Tony. "It's not in any way a hindrance to entertainment."

Meanwhile, he's practising his very good Roger Moore voice.

"Don't forget I get to work with my eyebrows as well," he says, grinning.

l Murder On Air, Theatre Royal, ~ July 8-12

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