Following its critically acclaimed sell-out run at Liverpool Theatre Festival and Northern tour, Swan Song, a revised comedy by acclaimed playwright Jonathan Harvey, is heading to London for one week only.

Swan Song was first staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1997, before transferring to Hampstead Theatre with Rebecca Front in the lead role. Jonathan Harvey adapted the 70-minute play specially for Andrew Lancel at Liverpool Theatre Festival to play the solo role of gay forty-something, English teacher Dave Titswell. Here, the actor (The Bill, Coronation Street, Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, Cilla The Musical) tells Sam Bennett more. 

We speak after a wholesome weekend, for him anyway. He watched the football, Manchester United vs. Everton – he’s an avid fan of the latter, I don’t tell him who I support. There was also dancing school for the kids, church, and No Time To Die. He “absolutely loved” the latest Bond, he says, describing it as “the perfect Bond film” and praising the pace, humour, underscoring, and “consummate” Daniel Craig. Ben Whishaw (Q), he resumes, has “got to get a spinoff now, surely. That character is so complete.” He points out “the very slight reference” to Q’s boyfriend in the film. “It was just there,” he says, “no eyes rolled or eyebrows raised. It was just there. Imagine Bond doing that 20 years ago.” I tell him I thought we might actually see Q’s boyfriend in No Time To Die. “That’s the spinoff,” he replies, “imagine if it was M…” 

Speaking of Ralph Fiennes, we both saw his one-man show, Four Quartets this year. As a fan of TS Eliot, he thought Fiennes’ take on it “was very unique and beautifully done. It was a bit of a buzz to be in the same room as him, really, because I think he is one of the best actors.” When people name their favourite screen performances, he says, Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest comes up, along with Monster’s Charlize Theron, but he always goes back to Fiennes (Amon Göth) in Schindler’s List – “one of the scariest, most brilliant screen performances. To see him on stage was ace, wasn’t it?” 

What about his own one-man show though? Last year, “in the middle of the dark times”, Bill Elms (producer of Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, which starred Lancel in the title role) produced Liverpool Theatre Festival. “He said, ‘would you open it?’ and I was like, ‘with what?’” Lancel rang Jonathan Harvey (“he wrote a lot of my Corrie stuff”) who said he didn’t really have anything, before remembering Swan Song which he’d originally written for a female lead. However, they read the play, its pertinence 25 years on “staggering”. Harvey adapted the script for Lancel, who performed it in the solo role of Dave Titswell at the festival. 

“Dave gets things wrong,” he says. “Dave doesn’t quite get what’s happening in the world. He really wants change but has no idea how to get it. He’s not very successful with the fellas. He believes he is the best teacher, and in many ways he is a great teacher, but he’s kind of a lost soul.” The term ‘bittersweet comedy’ is always overused, he opines, but applies here. 

Following the festival, the Noreen Kershaw-directed Swan Song embarked on a tour of the north, during which Lancel saw people warm “to this chatty, bitchy, funny, sad, camp teacher called Dave”. Now it is transferring to the Turbine Theatre next to Battersea Power Station, after a stop at The Coro in The Lakes where a lot of the play is set. The Turbine is perfect for Swan Song, he says, and the noises heard overhead shouldn’t be an issue in this particular piece. 

“Knowing Dave, if he hears anything going on, it will be referred to.” He thinks back to a previous outdoor performance. During one of his lines, “I am the streets, I breathe the streets”, a siren sounded. “I can hear the fucking streets,” he added on that occasion. “So, if he hears a train going over, who knows what might happen.” 

Swan Song plays Cumbria’s The Coro 19-20 November (thecoro.co.uk) and London’s Turbine Theatre 29 November-4 December (theturbinetheatre.com)

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