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Sandy Grierson: actor and writer

Ed Gaughan and Sandy Grierson in The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler at Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Ed Gaughan and Sandy Grierson in The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler at Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. Photo: Tim Morozzo

Sandy Grierson has been working on a musical about Scottish poet and songwriter Ivor Cutler since the project’s conception, both as an actor and a writer. The show, The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, has its English premiere at the Brighton Festival this month

What is it like coming back to the piece after a year away?

It’s brilliant. The whole experience was fantastic – the company, the subject matter. It was one of those jobs that as you get older don’t come along that often, so when they do, you embrace them with both hands, both legs and everything.

How did you become involved in the show?

The very first notion of a Cutler musical came about in about 2007 when we were doing a show and music really was the language of that production. The song we used to warm up to was Ivor Cutler’s I’m Going in a Field. We were thinking of things like Mamma Mia! and the notion of what Ivor Cutler’s work would be like if you were to try and string a story together around it. I knew that I wanted to be involved, and a few years ago we started working on it. We started telling his story using his poetry and music and it was my job to collate as much material as possible and get a basic draft of a script.

Do you enjoy a more devised process to just coming in with a pre-existing text?

It happens a lot in new writing I think, that actors, and sometimes directors, deserve more credit for their input. In UK theatre, which is quite heavily text based, I think sometimes a lot of creative decisions and inputs can get subsumed under one name, so in many ways doing a ‘devised’ piece never feels too far removed from what actors do generally, which is quite a lot more than they actually get paid for.

You have done quite a lot of work for radio, haven’t you?

I have, I love doing radio. It is very often a much clearer, more defined piece of work – the writer does the writing, the actor the acting, and so on. You do feel like a proper old school actor doing it though. And actually it came in handy for this because we have a section in the show where we play around with foley, so that was interesting to look at too.

What have your influences been as an actor?

I suppose growing up in Edinburgh was a massive one for me because of all the international stuff that came in. I got the political theatre – 7:84 and all that – coming through, which interested me as a kid. I was very lucky to meet Zofia Kalinska, who came and did a one-woman show in Edinburgh, which bowled me over when I saw it. Myself and a bunch of people went to a workshop with her the week after, and she became my teacher of sorts for a number of years. Another person was a man called David Johnstone who is a mime artist, who was my other mentor. I gradually got an agent so I had no formal training – my training was with them, learning from that generation, which was great.

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler runs at Theatre Royal Brighton as part of Brighton Festival from May 13 to 17.

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