Philip Whitchurch talks Ian Rankin’s Dark Road

Philip Whitchurch as Alfred Chalmers. Pic: Comp
Philip Whitchurch as Alfred Chalmers. Pic: Comp
Have your say

IT was another Ian Rankin tale that last brought Philip Whitchurch to the Capital.

“I was here last year to do the TV adaptation of Doors Open, which was shown on Boxing Day,” recalls the actor, triggering another memory of the city.

“Funnily enough, I was here in ’87, at the Fringe. We did Joe Orton’s first play, The Ruffian On The Stair.

“I couldn’t remember where the gig was, it was so long ago, but, actually, it was here, in what is now the Lyceum rehearsal room. The very room I rehearsed this show. Amazing.”

The show to which Whitchurch refers is Rankin and Mark Thomson’s crime thriller Dark Road, which runs at the Lyceum until 19 October.

In what is the Rebus creator’s stage debut, the 62-year-old plays Alfred Chambers, a serial killer who has served 25 years for the slaying of four Edinburgh girls.

“He feels he has been hard done by. He has been in a secure hospital for 25 years and he feels aggrieved that he is there,” says Whitchurch, before explaining how he got into the head-space of such a depraved creation.

“I read one book, about Ian Brady in Ashworth Hospital,” he says. “Big clumps of it were about his time there, which he calls Auch-worth, and he is particularly scathing of the institution and the way they run it. Someone like that would, I think.”

Not that Chambers is based on Brady.

“Brady was convicted and found guilty and has never denied it. This man is in a similar situation but has always professed his innocence.

“The thing is, he isn’t a particularly nice character, so it’s kind of double-edged. It’s not like he is squeaky clean, saying, ‘I want to get out.’ He is a troubled person, but being troubled doesn’t mean to say that he is guilty, and that is what I find interesting about him.”

He might find it interesting, but playing such a ‘monster’ isn’t without its down sides. “I’ve had some very strange dreams recently and am not sleeping particularly well,” he reveals.

“Lots of actors have different techniques for finding their way into a character. People do method [where actors draw on their own emotions and memories] and stuff.

“On this particular production I haven’t gone down that road, but I do think something subliminal seeps into your subconscious from what you are doing.”

Perhaps best known for his TV roles in shows like Corrie spin-off The Brothers McGregor, Sharpe, The Bill and My Hero, Whitchurch is glad to be back on stage.

“If you get a good part on TV it’s terrific and I’ve been lucky with some of the stuff I’ve done,” he says. “But for me, the real challenge as an actor is being on stage.

“On TV, you could know somebody and then never see them again after the read through, because they have different filming days.

“I like that you become a family when you are in a theatre company.”

With Dark Road, Whitchurch is also secure in the knowledge that he has comfortable digs, unlike some of his filming experiences down the years. Take Sharpe, for example, in which he played Captain William Frederickson.

“That was a great character to play, but it but meant being away for long periods of time as it was filmed in Russia and Turkey. That was a mixed experience because, as much as I love going abroad, they were hard gigs - not the nicest of places.

“Stuck in the Crimea, in the Ukraine, was pretty bleak, particularly when the weather got cold. There was no infrastructure so you couldn’t even go for a coffee or to a restaurant.”

Thankfully, that’s not a problem he’ll encounter in the Capital.

• Dark Road, Lyceum, Grindlay Street, until 19 Oct, 7.45pm (matinee 2.30pm), £12-£27.50, 0131-248 2828