Billy Hartman stars in Confessions of Gordon Brown

Billy Hartman as Gordon Brown. Pic: Comp
Billy Hartman as Gordon Brown. Pic: Comp
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FOR 16 years, Billy Hartman was a regular in living rooms across the UK.

As Terry Woods in Emmerdale, we watched as he went through the usual gamut of soap excess, from extra-marital affairs, to being suspected of murder, only to be killed off, a hero, as he tried to rescue others from a fire, in 2011.

Even now, Terry Woods remains the 20th longest serving character in the soap’s 42-year history.

It’s one of the reasons that, when he takes to the stage of the Traverse tonight, in The Confessions of Gordon Brown, it will be the first time Hartman has trod the boards in his homeland in quarter of a century.

“The last time I played Scotland must be 25 years ago, and that makes it quite a daunting prospect,” he admits, with a nervous laugh.

“It’s just one of those things. Obviously, because I was in Emmerdale for such a long time, I couldn’t do anything else. So, really, it has taken this play to give me the chance to do it again.”

Ironically, there’s enough intrigue to fuel more than one soap storyline in Hartman’s latest project.

The Confessions of Gordon Brown, by Kevin Toolis, is a candid portrait of life inside Downing Street, as Gordon Brown exposes the darkest secrets of being Prime Minister, the stab-in-the-back plotting, the betrayals and, most importantly, the hair gel.

From the English pound to the indie referendum and the storms on land and sea, is there is no end to the woes of political leadership?

But what does it take to be the ‘Big Man’ and lead the nation?

Hartman confesses a role he never imagined playing... until he was offered it.

“It is such a singular play, about a man who happened to have been the Prime Minister and everything that entails. What I am not doing is mimicking him. although obviously I do have to try to capture his essence.”

Love him or loathe him, Brown has been called ‘our greatest failure at being Prime Minister in 200 years’.

In Toolis’ satire on the hidden art of modern political leadership, he reveals what it takes to knife your way to the top and rule a nation. And how his dream of power ran awry.

Thoughtfully, Hartman concedes that playing a real life character, brings with it extra responsibility, especially when it is someone whose integrity you admire.

“You have to take that on board, although as an actor I know it is first and foremost a piece of drama.

“I have a great deal of respect for Gordon Brown. There are so many different levels of complication to his predicament and of his mental balance, in this piece, it is endlessly fascinating and challenging.”

Many of Brown’s colleagues and friends have seen the play, which premiered at the Fringe last year, with Iain Grieve in the role. It sold out.

As he takes over the title role, it is clear that Hartman, who hails from Polbeth, West Calder, is only too aware of the significance of the piece in the year of the independence referendum.

“It’s most definitely more relevant,” he insists. “It’s a sounding board, and there are some very profound questions asked in it. It is set in a fascinating world, a world about power, how you get it, how you keep it and at what cost.”

The 56-year-old adds, “I’m at that funny age where this has reawkened something in me. A lot of my political thoughts have lain dormant for some time; you get to an age where you think, ‘Whatever I do or say is not going to make a change.’

“It’s part of the human condition, yet the thing about Brown was that he didn’t give in to that apathy, he was constantly fighting and, as far as I know, still is. I believe he is a very moral man.”

It was here, in the Capital that Hartman trained to be an actor, at Queen Margaret College. He went on to appear on the London stage as Bill Sikes in Oliver, at Sadlers Wells, and Isaac Talentire, in the West End production of The Hired Man.

“Acting seemed to be the easiest route for me,” he smiles, when asked about his early days. “I wanted to be a professional musician, an architect, an artist, all manner of things, then somebody said, ‘Why don’t you become an actor, that’s easy’?”

He laughs, “Of course, it’s not easy at all. It’s hard.”

The Confessions of Gordon Brown, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, tonight-Saturday, 7.30pm, £8-£15.50, 0131-228 1404