Lewis Howden reveals King’s Gang Show memories

Slow Air, starring Lewis Howden, Pauline Knowles.
Slow Air, starring Lewis Howden, Pauline Knowles.
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THERE’S a homecoming at the King’s Theatre this week, when Borderline tour their production of David Harrower’s A Slow Air, to the Capital.

Part of the company’s 40th anniversary celebrations, A Slow Air tells the story of Morna and Athol, siblings who haven’t spoken to each other for 15 years. Now Morna’s son, Joshua, is turning 21 and planning a party. He’s invited them both.

Morna lives in Edinburgh now and works as a cleaner. Athol lives in Houston, Renfrewshire, and owns and runs a flooring business.

Reunited at the Black Bitch, the pub in Linlithgow where his mum used to go to folk gigs, Morna and Athol independently tell their sides of the tale, exploring the past that saw them grow up together and then bitterly fall apart.

Lewis Howden, who reprises the role of Athol, opposite Pauline Knowles, recalls that it was on the very same stage that he first performed as a kid in the Gang Show. It was the start of a long and successful career for the 
actor.

“I used to do the Gang Show. The guy who directed that was called Dave Clayton and I discovered he also ran Edinburgh Youth Theatre (EYT), which had just started, so I moved thinking I’d get better parts in the Gang Show if I was a member of EYT,” he laughs, “I ended up a founder member, or certainly a member in its founding year.”

The north Edinburgh actor continues, “It was a great grounding, and many of us are still in touch. We still meet to shoot the breeze and stuff like that.

“I’ve also worked with folk who I discovered subsequently were in EYT after I’d moved on.”

Other former Youth Theatre members who went on to great things include singer and actress Shirley Manson, playwright David Greig and Doctor Who star Neve McIntosh.

“My last official show with EYT was a thing called Big Al, about Al Capone,” remembers Howden, who is the son of the Capital’s comedy legend Happy Howden.

“That was my swansong, but I have great memories of that time, maybe not so lucid now, they all blend into one, but then it was 40 years ago,” he grins.

When A Slow Air opens at the King’s tomorrow, it will be the third production Howden has starred in.

First performed at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre in 2011, it then transferred to the Festival, New York and London.

In the original run Howden was joined by his real-life actor sister, Kath, who also discovered her love of stage at EYT.

“Funnily enough, we hadn’t worked together since EYT until the year previous to A Slow Air, then within a year we did three shows in a row,” he says.

“Playing opposite Kath gave us shortcuts in the sense that we didn’t have to worry about doing anything to be brother and sister, that was given.

“But subsequently, with the two other actresses I’ve appeared with , we’ve not really thought about that either because, to be honest, it is all there in the writing.

“In the play, both actors play around 17 different characters each as Athol and Morna tell their tales.

“The monologues interlock but they converge in a very skilful way so that, by the end, it is almost like dialogue even though we never look at each other, or talk to each other,” explains Howden.

“It’s also very funny. Reading the marketing blurb about it you might not think that. They’ve kind of forgotten to mention that is actually really, really funny and bitter-sweet.

“It’s a play about how we live now in Scotland, about families, relationships, loss... it has everything.

“There is nobody that comes to see it that doesn’t have a point of contact in it because we all have our own wee dramas in our family relationships. So it touches everybody’s heart in a funny way.”

The actor admits, despite 
having other offers on the table, he had a selfish reason for returning to the role for a third time.

“This is the third Morna I have worked with and they have all been wonderful, all had their own special way of doing it. For me, Athol is just a great part and when they keep asking me, I keep saying yes, because I don’t want anyone else to play the part. I worked with David Harrower as it was developed so there is an awful lot of me in there. It’s mine. Obviously someone else will in the future... but not yet,” he laughs.

And so as he steps on the King’s stage more than 40 years after his first appearance there as a lad, it must seem a lot smaller now than it did that first time.

“I’m not convinced,” he says. “I was there last year with Dunsinane and it still looks quite big. It’s still a big space to fill, but it’s also one of the great theatres to look out on from the stage.”

And will ghostly strains of that famous Gang Show anthem, We’re Riding Along On The Crest of a Wave, haunt him as he takes his curtain call each night?

“I hate to think how many times I have sung that,” he laughs. “Every Cub or Scout sings that thinking they invented it, but I’ve got great memories of that as well.

“Folk say, ‘Why did you do Gang Show?’ And I say ‘Hey, remember, it’s the Scout and Guide Gang Show, that should be enough explanation for you’... it was a great way to meet girls.”

A Slow Air, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, tomorrow-Saturday, 7.30pm, £17.50, 0131-529 6000