Andrew Agnew has just finished starring in football comedy Rally Roon the Rangers at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow, and will be appearing in Kilmarnock’s Palace Theatre’s pantomime this Christmas, playing Nurse Bella Moray in Snow White. During his theatre career so far, Andrew has appeared in two Cat Harvey plays, Love Me Tinder in 2019 and, before the first lockdown, he was part of One Singer, One Song, and he is regularly involved with The Francie & Josie Sketchbook. In 2012, Andrew played Edna Turnblad in Hairspray in Aberystwyth Arts Centre, and he stars and directs pantomimes, with his most recent appearance as Buttons in 2021 at Rhyl Pavilion Theatre in Cinderella. On screen, Andrew played Walter in Series 7 of Scot Squad, directed and appeared in episodes of Woolly & Tig and is well-known to young audiences as the regular role of PC Plum in CBeebies series Balamory, playing the character across four years, and with the show, he appeared on Springwatch and Autumnwatch and toured the UK with live arena shows. Answering our questions, Andrew speaks about The Francie & Josie Sketchbook, playing PC Plum in CBeebies series Balamory and his pantomime experience, including his upcoming performance of Nurse Bella Moray in Snow White.
Can you tell us about The Francie & Josie Sketchbook and what is it like to perform in and direct?
Well, for those of you who haven’t heard of Francie and Josie, they were two Glasgow, Gallas, ‘teddy boy’ characters originally played by the late Ricki Fulton and Jack Milroy. They would perform throughout Scotland in variety shows and even on their own TV show. They were massively popular especially on the Five Past Eight Show. So, moving forward to now, I have been involved in piecing together a tribute show to the originals with Liam Dolan and Johnny Mac as Francie and Josie. The ‘Sketchbook’ is like an old-time variety show with live Scottish music, old-time swing music with the St Andrew’s Sisters and plenty of comedy and sketches originally performed by the boys themselves. It was an absolute joy putting this show together with the famous ‘Arbroath’ joke, the “dancin’” sketch and countless ditties including La Dida Dida. I even cracked out a few songs myself. This is a genre of theatre that’s sometimes missing in our theatres and our sold-out audiences loved it. Here’s hoping we get to do more of the same in the future.
How is it seeing the audience response to the show and what do you enjoy most about working on it?
As a performer in the show, it’s an amazing experience to hear the reaction the audience have to some of these routines that are over 50 years old. Their comedy really is timeless. I advise anyone who hasn’t seen them to pop on Google and have a look at the originals. I can tell you Liam and Johnny are just as good.
I get to be part of several sketches, that have the audience in stitches and I also get to sing a few old-time classics, but my favourite part of the show will always be the screams of laughter at the ‘Arbroath’ gag being retold. It reminds me of when I got to see Ricki and Jack’s farewell show in the 90s.
We understand you were due to be part of Love Me Tinder earlier this year, which was cancelled due to COVID restrictions, what was it like performing with the show in 2019?
Love Me Tinder is a great comedy written by the fabulous Cat Harvey. We had such a brilliant time touring that show in 2019 with some great friends in the cast. It was such a shame that we had to postpone the dates due to COVID twice. We are hoping, at some point, to do it again. We had another play that Cat wrote, and I directed, we did get to do however. We finished that last tour date two weeks before the first lockdown, so we were happy that audience got to see One Singer, One Song, which is equally as funny.
It’s been announced that you will be playing Nurse Bella Moray in Snow White later this year at Kilmarnock’s Palace Theatre, what are you most looking forward to for the run?
Yes, this will be great fun for a lot of reasons. Firstly, because I’ll be having Christmas at home for the first time in 14 years. I’m usually in theatres in England and Wales, but this time I’m staying in sunny Scotland. The last time I was home for the festive season, I performed at the same theatre as Mother Goose. I love working in Kilmarnock as the audiences are always up for a good time.
Snow White will be great as it’s one of my favourite titles, plus I get to play Dame. I can’t wait to get the heels on. I usually play Buttons or Smee or Silly Billy. Dame is always a part I love, particularly because of all the fab costumes. This year I get to work with a few good friends too that are no stranger to Killie, plus I’m directing the show, so I get to add my usual flair to it too.
You played Buttons in Rhyl Pavilion Theatre’s 2021 pantomime, Cinderella, how did this go and what was it like getting back to live performances?
Well, pantomime for a lot of people, last year, was their return to the stage after COVID. Cinderella, as you probably would guess, was mine. We went into rehearsals all prepared and ready for whatever the restrictions threw at us, and we had a great time. The cast were a dream and worked so hard to give Rhyl a spectacular show and to keep everyone safe. We had a very successful run until restrictions were put in place in Wales that meant, like all theatres, we had to close on Christmas Eve. I loved playing Buttons as he got to do comedy, pathos and be cheeky to the Ugly Sisters. It was a joy. I’ve performed in and directed panto in Rhyl a few times and it is a joy of a theatre to work in, the staff are great. The audiences had a lot to deal with last year and we had the best time possible, but it was amazing to get on stage again and hear kids laugh and shout and sing. Exactly what we all needed.
Having starred in and directed many pantomimes, what are some of your stand-out highlights from working through pantomime season over the years?
For me, it’s always the people and theatres I get to work with. As someone who loves panto and went to see as many as we could afford as a kid, I’m always surprised that I’m sharing the stage with some panto greats. I have learnt so much over the years from the likes of Su Pollard, who was a massive influence, Bobby Crush, Kev Johns, Wendy Craig, Charles Burdon and Malandra Burrows, to name but a few. The talent that this genre of theatre calls for is so widespread that I get to work with very funny people who have to dance and sing. I’ve even had the pleasure of being involved with Acro Acts in Peter Pan with The Nitwits. This physical activity use to frighten me as a child. Not now, I’m not a stranger to a trampet and box.
Another stand-out moment for me was directing and playing Silly Billy in Sleeping Beauty at the Sunderland Empire with Faye Tozer as Fairy. Being a massive Steps fan, this was a joy and helping to compile a Steps medley with our MD was a treat. Seeing Faye battle with Vicky Entwistle as Carabosse, just perfect.
It really is impossible for me to pick out highlights as I could go on for hours mentioning everyone I’ve worked with and all the great theatres I’ve been lucky to play including the Churchill Theatre in Bromley, where I played Buttons, and Smee to the Grand Theatre in Swansea. the list goes on. Not to mention our audiences and those cheeky kids that join me on stage at the song sheet. Those stories I’m keeping for the book.
What’s it like directing pantomimes and how different are they to work on to other projects?
This year will be my sixth time I’ve directed the panto I’ve performed in and it’s tremendous fun. I really have a ball and my imagination can run wild. The main difference is the time schedule. Rehearsals, technical rehearsals and opening the show tends to happen all in a two-week stretch. In that time, we simply divide and conquer. The choreographer and the dancers start breaking the back of their endless dance routines. The musical director teaches the songs and finds the right keys for our numbers, making us sound smashing, and I start at the beginning of the story, and block it, adding slapstick and slosh with a strict schedule making it look a feast for the eyes. Not to mention rehearsing our dance school kids out with their school day.
I like to have every minute accounted for as there’s no time to hang about. By the end of the first week, the show is running, and we are piecing the dance numbers and kids into the scenes for a producers run which is always nerve-racking.
Week two starts with us on stage and putting the technical aspects to our show. This takes a bit of time as we have to rehearse the crew and their scene changes whilst adding lighting and sound. There’s a lot that goes into making a panto look how it looks and a lot of dedicated people too.
In other theatre, we may have a bit more extra time to rehearse and usually there’s a lot less technical moments. I love the panto buzz we all get pulling something together quickly. It adds to the “anything can happen” feeling that the audience love.
In 2012, you played Edna Turnblad in Hairspray at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, what was this like?
I love this musical dearly. It was on my wish list and when I got to play Edna, I couldn’t believe it. She is the most wonderful character full of heart and joy. The transformation this woman goes through from a reclusive, though creative woman, looking after her daughter and husband, letting her own life pass her by. She put her own dreams on hold for others. Her daughter then opens her eyes to other parts of her life and welcomes her to the 60s. She, of course, gets totally swept up, even landing her in jail. The music is tremendous and the important message this show educates is invaluable. We had a beautiful, talented cast, and I would love to play her again in the future. Putting on those dresses, singing those songs and performing that very funny book by Harvey Fierstein was a joy. It was really ‘timeless to me’.
On screen, you appeared in this year’s Series 7 of Scot Squad as Walter, how was it joining the cast and what was Walter like to play?
This is such a popular show. It was something I wanted to be involved in for a while and when I was asked to be part of the new series, I jumped at it. They have a very different way of working, which I loved. There’s no script. The writers give you a breakdown of what has to happen in the sketch and then the actors improvise while the cameras roll. Walter is such a gift. I enjoyed my time with him very much. Having been part of an amateur theatre club as a kid, I was constantly surrounded by town hall caretakers and knew exactly what they hold important to them. I had a great foundation for the character. Also, the info the writers give you allows you to relax and enjoy it. I really hope he appears in Series 8 should it happen.
How did you find your time directing and appearing in episodes of Woolly & Tig?
Working on Woolly & Tig was a great learning experience for me as it was working with part animation, the spider – Woolly, which I had never done before. That got the technical side of my brain working as I had to film backgrounds that the artists would insert the spider on. My television direction up to that point was working on Me Too!, which had similarities to Balamory. So, this was very different.
When we started filming, the character of Tig was four years old. Now, those with kids will know it’s kind of difficult to get a kid to do anything, when you say it and how you describe it. So, the best way was to make everything a game. It worked and I loved it. Me being a big kid at heart.
I also played Tam, who appeared in five episodes. This was great fun, I got to do lots of singing that was released on the Woolly & Tig album.
You played the series regular role of PC Plum in the hugely successful children’s series Balamory across four years, what are some of your favourite memories from working on the show and filming for CBeebies?
Balamory allowed me to do lots of things out with the show. I got to present in Springwatch and Autumnwatch, as well as Bedtime Stories and links for CBeebies. It was a superb time. When we first started working on Balamory, it was called Apple Cross. We recorded our character songs and got dates to go to the Isle of Mull to film the songs. The weather in Tobermory when we were filming was torrential rain. We were there for two weeks dancing in front of houses and by the sea every day in different weather condition outfits, the whole cast were a bit confused as to what was actually happening. When we saw the songs all cut together, we knew exactly what had been happening. We loved them. The programme’s name was then changed to Balamory as they wanted something similar to Tobermory (but not that as it’s the name of a Womble), and they also wanted it to rhyme with story. So, Balamory it was. We filmed Series 1 and 2 for the full year between Mull and the studios in Queen Margaret Drive in Glasgow. The cast became very close, and the crew became our family. As the show became more popular during filming Series 3 and 4, our studios moved to a big hanger further out from the city, we recorded new songs, introduced new characters and we started being able to do some foreign filming. I got to go to Venice.
I always say that Balamory was the most special thing to happen in my life. It really carved out an adventure in CBeebies that’s lasted over 20 years. We also got to tour the UK with live arena tours. I even got to play Wembley a few times. Not bad, eh?
What was it like working with the rest of the cast and what was PC Plum like to play?
The Balamory cast are still friends 20 years later and in contact thanks to social media. The two that live closest to me, Miss Hoolie (Julie Wilson Nimmo) and Edie (Juliet Cadzow), we catch up as often as work allows us. We also see Archie (Miles Jupp) when he’s on tour with his stand-up shows. Also, Miss Hoolie’s youngest son is my godson.
It was a pleasure creating a friendship for television with these characters, but it really transferred into our real lives too. We are very lucky.
PC Plum has been a gift to play for so long, he was great fun as he was a bit of a blundering fool at points, and I love the comedy that brings. I like to think he’s still part of what I do today.
Can you tell us about some of the other screen, theatre and pantomime projects you’ve been involved with?
I’ve been very lucky to work in this industry for over 25 years. There’s been a few other TV comedies and commercials and some lovely plays for different festivals. I did a one-man show entitled Dually Andrews in which I sang 17 songs reflecting on parts of my life. I was part of the writing team and played Joe in a lovely play for Glasgay called A Child Made of Love, in which a gay couple was trying to have a child. I played Chris in John Godber’s On the Piste, in which I spent 50% of the play on skis. That was a hoot. I’ve just finished in a football comedy at the beautiful Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow. A theatre with fabulous variety history. I’ve worked on endless pantos with Jennifer Ellison, Helen Fraser, Sue Holderness, Hayley Tamaddon, Abi Titmuss, Matt Lapinskas, and Ace Bhatti.
Where does your love of acting and directing come from and how did you get into both?
I was always involved with school shows and amateur theatre when I was a teenager and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
I’m a big musical theatre fan and try to see as much as possible, and I’ve seen a lot. I’m a massive Stephen Sondheim fan and probably know every lyric to every song. I don’t watch a lot of TV, however, I will catch up with lots of crime dramas, particularly Criminal Minds, the CSI series and anything with a serial killer and a forensic lab. I enjoy fantasy films, especially Disney. I love a happy ending. This probably helps cancel out all the blood and gore.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I love spending time with my gorgeous nephews Adam and Lewis. I like to travel and go on holiday with friends. However, a good Netflix drama will help me relax and unwind.
What are you hoping the rest of 2022 brings for you?
I’m very lucky to work in a profession that I love. If I get to continue working with great people doing great things, I’ll be happy. I also hope for good health, not only for me but for my family, without them I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. Especially my beautiful mum, she was a massive champion of mine and I miss her every single day.
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