By David Hennessy
A new production of Simon Donald’s The Life of Stuff has been acclaimed at Theatre503, earning three nominations for the Offie (Off West End) Awards. This is the first time the play has been performed in 20 years and since it won Donald the Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright Award, Critic’s Choice Best New Play Award, and was nominated for Best New Comedy at the Oliviers.
Described as a comic fly-on-the-wall snapshot of eight lives careering out of control in Glasgow, The Life of Stuff follows Willie Dobie, a man with ambition, imagination and lots of drugs. Racketeer Dobie wants to celebrate getting rid of his rival drug dealers by opening a nightclub in a disused warehouse. As the audience are introduced to the various spiders in Dobie’s web, things get more and more out of control.
The Irish World caught up with Gregory Finnegan to find out what it is like to play such a character. Gregory is familiar from his role as Gabriel Brennan in Sky’s Is Harry on the Boat? His other television credits include Doctors, Eastenders, Spooks, The Last Detective, Agatha Christie: A Life in Pictures and Mile High while he also appeared in Jason Statham’s Blitz.
“It’s been fantastic actually, it’s been received really well and been playing to large audiences,” the actor tells us. “We had such a laugh in rehearsals and it’s great that it’s been recognised in that way (being nominated for awards) because it’s nice for the theatre and all the people that have put so much time into it.”
Originally from Glasgow himself, was the play one that Gregory was already familiar with? “I wasn’t. I had never heard of it actually which is a terrific shame, it’s a great play and I hope it gets done more from here on out.”
Considering that this dark and in your face comedy came before Trainspotting or Lock, Stock, would Gregory agree that Donald’s work was ahead of its time? “Yeah, perhaps. I think it was in response to the political fallout after Maggie and all of those things: Writers decide they have a different voice and were able to write plays that weren’t necessarily commenting on our times but just about the people and how we were living at that time. And certainly Trainspotting came after it, did that in a major way. I think it probably was a precursor to a lot of those plays and movies and things like that. That’s probably why it’s a bit of a shame that it’s not recognised as that today but hopefully we’ve put that write a wee bit.”
Actors must always find the humanity in any character, how does Gregory describe Dobie who is a bit of a rogue to put it mildly? “He’s a bit of a wally, I suppose. He thinks he’s a big man and he’s going big places but I fear for him, he doesn’t quite grasp what is going on around him and who else is actually in charge. He’s an entrepreneurial spirited kind of guy and I don’t think he sets out to necessarily do the harm that he does but I guess he’s just a callous bloke really.
“It (the role)’s cracking. All the characters in the play are fantastic, they’re all so different and it’s not that often as an actor you get a chance to play these larger than life characters so that’s probably why it’s been so much fun to work on: Because they’re completely out of the box characters. You don’t see them every day so we’re very lucky really.”
The Life of Stuff was adapted into a film in 1997 with the playwright himself directing. Ciaran Hinds, Liam Cunnigham, Gina McKee and Ewen Bremner were among the cast while Jason Flemyng played Dobie. Did Gregory check out the adaptation while preparing? “We all had a little look to see if we could find it but I gather it’s- I don’t know what the film term is for not in print is but it’s not currently available so I’ve not seen it. I’d love to but it’s probably best to see it after we’ve finished. It’s best to keep away from those kind of sources.”
After being such a success, could we see The Life of Stuff performed again in the near future? “I don’t know. There’s certainly been chat of taking it to Scotland. I don’t know where they are with that but that’s certainly a possibility. When anything gets received and reviewed as we have been, people start to talk about going other places with it. As far as I know, no plans as yet but that may change.”
Gregory may be familiar to Irish people from a Barry’s Tea advert he appeared in years ago. Playing a footballer worried when summoned to his manager’s house, he learns that, rather than being told he is finished, Gregory learns he is being made captain: “It was a lot of fun. We shot in Wicklow and I was playing a bit of GAA and stuff like that. That was a bit of a laugh with all the Irish boys taking the piss out of me for not knowing the rules.”
Irish people still recognise Gregory every now and then: “It does happen. I’ve been over a couple of times. With my name as well, I often get meetings for Irish roles. I remember I flew out to Dublin to meet for the role of a new regular in Fair City and I walked into the room and I said: ‘Oh hello, how are you doing?’ And everyone, the producers there, were like: ‘Oh, you’re not Irish?’ And I was like: ‘No, I’m not. Oh, you thought I was?’”
The actor moved to America for some of his youth before returning to the UK and has family “dotted” around Ireland, mostly in Sligo. Anyone who saw Gregory in Is Harry on the Boat? May have also thought he was an Irish native as he pulled off the Irish accent admirably: “A lot of my relatives are still in Ireland as well so it’s not an accent I find hard to do. I have spent much of my career doing Irish roles.”
For the full interview, see the May 4 edition of The Irish World