A FAMILIAR face comes to the Royal Lyceum Theatre, this week, to star in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men.
You might recognise him from Where The Heart Is, Making Out or even Coronation Street. Or maybe you know him as Jesus O’Toole from Shameless or Waterloo Road deputy head, Chris Mead.
One thing is certain, 34-year-old William Ash has certainly ratcheted up the credits since his 1987 TV debut in ITV’s Sherlock Holmes.
These days, a quick glance at his CV notes he has since done everything from Heartbeat to Soldier Soldier, Doctor Who to Casualty. “I’ve been acting since I was about nine-years-old,” he says, “but didn’t really want to be an actor until I was 16, until then I’d wanted to be a footballer.
“It’s funny, because a couple of months ago that Sherlock Holmes was on again. I’ve only got about two lines in it, but it was crazy seeing it. I could remember being really excited at the time.”
Directed by John Dove, Steinbeck’s classic finds Ash taking a break from the small screen to play George, one of two migrant field workers travelling through California searching for their piece of the American Dream.
Armed with nothing but the hope of one day living and working on their own land, George and his childishly innocent pal Lennie start work on a ranch. New friendships are made and at first life looks good, until gentle giant Lennie, unaware of his own strength, shatters their dreams with one disturbingly tragic act.
“I was really familiar with the story because I’d read the book for my GCSE,” says Ash. “It’s really quite a short novel but for some reason it stuck with me... must have been how brilliantly written and structured it was.”
An exploration of how the vulnerable fare when society has no safety net and economic hardship bites hard, Of Mice And Men premiered at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway in 1937.
The play was last seen in Edinburgh in 2003 when Matthew Kelly appeared as Lennie - for which he won an Olivier Award - at The King’s Theatre.
The actor recalls, “My memory of reading the story was reasonably general, but in rehearsal I found so many new depths to the characters.
“On the surface it could just be that George is looking after Lenny, but they have a much more complex relationship. They are much more inter-dependable.
“A massive theme in the play is loneliness.
“George is trying to avoid that as much as anyone else. The love between the two of them is reciprocated. They are totally reliant on each other.”
The production reunites Ash with Steve Jackson, best known as Janice Battersby’s bin man lodger Trevor Dean in Coronation Street, who plays Lenny.
“We worked together on Clocking Off so I already knew him a little bit and that helped build the chemistry required between the two characters,” says Ash, adding, “That is important, because the play is reliant on that relationship working.”
For Ash, his return to the stage comes as a welcome change from life on Waterloo Road.
“I was signed up for three series, but immediately after my first series they commissioned the next, so I ended up doing 40 episodes in a year. By the time I finished in it, I’d done about 50 episodes.
“I didn’t want to get too comfortable there. I try to do one play a year, which is important for me because I love doing theatre. I find it much more rewarding.”
Of Mice And Men, Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street, tomorrow-March 17, 7.45pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14.50-£29, 0131-248 4848