Debt lies at the heart of The Collection, Rapture Theatre Company’s latest touring production, starring Jimmy Chisholm.
Lawson is the best collector in the business: operating in the seedy world of debt collection, he is at the top of the ‘profession’. However when one of his clients commits suicide, Lawson’s life is shattered irrevocably.
As the mystery deepens around the death, the noose tightens, the stakes rise and Lawson and his colleagues are pushed into a deadly power game from which there can only be one winner.
Chisholm, who first came to fame back in the eighties as Jimmy Blair in the Scottish soap Take The High Road, first played the role of Lawson seven years ago, when Rapture first toured the play.
It’s a part, he admits, that he had to think about before returning to it.
“It’s a hard, hard part to play,” he says. “I’d like to say that doing stuff on stage as a professional doesn’t cost me anything, but putting yourself in to places like those Lawson finds himself does cost.
“In his day, Lawson was the top of the tree in the collectors game. Then one of his lady clients committed suicide and that affected his head - he pretty much had a nervous breakdown.
“So he decided that he had to come back to work in order to help these people who are in debt - as it happens they are always women.
“Then, this woman who is in debt to him tries to get out of paying by claiming he acted improperly towards her - which he did, I suppose, as he taped all their conversations.
“He is so freaked out by the fact that he might have missed something that the woman who died was saying to him, he now secretly tapes all conversations. When he leaves his phone and the woman discovers this, all sorts of trouble ensues.
“He wants to help, but he’s forgotten it’s a horrible world he lives in and there is no helping anyone.”
Chisholm, who also appeared with Mel Gibson in Braveheart, can only empathise with such an extreme character to a certain degree.
“I know nothing about the grimy old world of debt collecting, and these aren’t just loan sharks, these are the guys who go around collecting when you get behind on your payments - they see some pretty horrible sights.”
Not that Chisholm is a stranger to playing hard men. His credits show he’s been a con-man in The Bill and he featured in no fewer than four Taggarts. Playing such dark characters on TV, however, is easier than on stage.
“It takes much more out of you than TV. In Taggart you shoot it line by line, you’re not having to put yourself into a state for two and a half hours every night - you could sit and have a cup of coffee between lines on Taggart.
“Theatre is much more taxing because you have to put yourself into the bubble for the whole duration of the piece. Some parts, of course, are easier than others. Para Handy, for example, was a joy to play. It’s a joyous role and although it is much more energetic, it’s not nearly as taxing emotionally.”
Described as both funny and shocking, The Collection, written by Penicuik playwright Mike Cullen, mixes “edge-of-your-seat tension with gallons of Scottish black humour,” promises director Michael Emans.
“Mike’s script is a profoundly prescient play about debt. What the characters in the play say about debt and being in debt I can relate to and, according to statistics, more of us are in debt then ever before. It’s also a great thriller with a top Scottish cast.”
Joining Chisholm on stage are Leith-born actor Tam Dean Burn, best known for his stint in River City as the villainous Thomas McCabe, Pauline Turner and David Tarkenter.
Chisholm agrees with Emans about the relevance of the piece.
“With loans so easy to get nowadays and people getting more and more into debt, there is a warning in the piece. I don’t think it claims to be realistic, but it is a stark reminder that you really don’t want to get into debt because it’s a spiral; the more you’re get into debt, the more you get into debt.”
Chisholm adds, “It’s a funny old play. I really like Mike Cullen’s work. He mostly does telly now, but since Michael [Emans] badgered him into doing this again, he’s now considering writing for the theatre once more, which is great news. The writing is dazzling, and quite mesmerising to watch.”
The Collection, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, Friday & Saturday, 7.30pm, £15.50, 0131-228 1404
Also at Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Thursday, 7.30pm £11.75, 0131-665 2240