Bonnyrigg’s Blair lands dream role in Mary Poppins

Blair Anderson in Mary Poppins
Blair Anderson in Mary Poppins
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THE Singing Kettle gave him his first taste of the limelight, reveals local musical theatre star Blair Anderson. Standing on stage at the Festival Theatre, dressed in an over-sized American footballer’s costume, the five-year-old Anderson was hooked.

Laughing, he admits, “I have no idea why I was an American footballer but remember being a bit star-struck. I guess it was all the bright lights.”

Anderson, who attended Bonnyrigg Primary and Lasswade High, returns to the Capital this week in Cameron Mackintosh’s smash hit production of Mary Poppins, playing the accident prone Robertson Ay, servant to the Banks family.

“He’s so much fun to play. We have a lot of giggles and it’s great to be working with Wendy Fergusson who plays the cook,” he smiles.

Based on the stories of PL Travers and the Walt Disney film of the same name, Mary Poppins recounts the world’s most magical Nanny’s adventures with the Banks family of Cherry Tree Lane, and includes the ever popular songs Jolly Holiday, Step in Time and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Preparing to return to the theatre where he was first bitten by the showbiz bug is a big deal for Anderson, who reflects that despite his early stage debut, and numerous appearances with Forth Children Theatre, it wasn’t until the age of 17 that he decided he wanted a life on the stage.

“I never ever said I wanted to be an actor but it was always something I loved. Any opportunity to do it, I was there. It just didn’t seem like a realistic dream. I guess that’s why I never said it out loud.

“It wasn’t something anyone in Bonnyrigg really did, but if they did, it was always a case of ‘...Of course you do, now what’s your backup?’

“Eventually I got bored of saying what my backup was; that I wanted to be a journalist, an architect, to do languages, to teach music or drama... by then I knew my fall back would be something in the industry I love.”

It was a rejection letter from The Dance School of Scotland that changed everything.

“I went for the audition, it went really well, and then I got a rejection that said, ‘No, you’re not coming’,” explains the 23-year-old.

“That made me ten times more hungry for it, and from that moment on I was determined to find somewhere to go.”

That somewhere was The Arts Educational School, in London, where he did his degree - a very different world to the one he’d been used to, performing with Forth Children’s Theatre (FCT).

“From the age of 13, FCT were like a family. It was the safest place to learn.

“There was no pressure and no judgement in terms of money. You didn’t have to pay to be a member, you just went and had fun with your friends and did wonderful shows,” he says fondly.

Shows Anderson appeared in for FCT included the Evening News Drama Award-winning productions of Jekyll & Hyde, Ragtime, and The Wiz.

He continues, “Whether you were third tree from the left or the lead, you felt part of something at FCT.

“Then I went to London. There I did so many things I never thought I would do... that was where I grew up. It was so exciting that nothing phased me, I’d just jump in and work hard, surrounded by like-minded people.”

Leaving drama school, Anderson landed his first job, starring opposite Just Good Friends legend Paul Nicholas in the 70’s musical Blockbuster. “It was built around the songs of Suzi Quatro, Mud and The Sweet. I didn’t know who any of them were,” he confesses. “It wasn’t a box office hit but it was a lot of fun and I learned a massive amount.

“I learned the difference from being a wannabe actor at drama school and how a professional jobbing actor gets on with their work, how focussed and driven you need to be.”

Two more jobs followed in quick succession, Seussical The Musical, which took him to Hong Kong, and an Irish run of Singin’ In The Rain.

“In Suessical I was The Cat in the Hat, my first lead role and a part I’d always wanted to play but never thought I would. My first dream role really,” he says.

“Then in Singing in the Rain I played Cosmo Brown, another dream role. Then I started this.”

It’s an impressive CV for an actor not long out of drama school. So what is his secret?

“I’ve been very, very lucky,” he says, “but for every one good audition, there are ten bad ones.”

The auditions for Mary Poppins certainly weren’t a breeze. Anderson had to audition eight time over a period of two months before securing the role.

“Cameron Mackintosh has shaped musical theatre. I’ve seen so many productions he has been involved in that I had to pinch myself when I first met him at the Prince Edward Theatre.

“He was lovely and very sweet, a passionate man who knows what he wants.

“I was very nervous and those two months of auditions were a roller-coaster. I just had wait for the call.”

When it came, Anderson was dressed as Spongebob Squarepants... and his phone was dead.

He explains, “I’d been out all day promoting the new Spongebob movie and my phone had run out of battery. When I got in and charged it up, there was a voice mail... I had the job.”

If his journey back to the Festival Theatre has been an eventful one, it has also been a bit of a roller coaster for his parents, Irene, a Learning Assistant at Bonnyrigg Primary, and dad Alan, an electrician with Scottish Power.

“They have been through the mill with nerves and worry, but now they’re very proud and have invited every one of my neighbours and everyone down the local to come and see the show,” he laughs.

There’s one performance in particular they’re all looking forward to, when he celebrates his 24th birthday, in May.

“Just to be at home with the company I am so proud to be a part of is amazing. We always have rendition of Happy Birthday in eight part harmony and cakes, and the fact that my family will be around makes it really special. It will be the first birthday I’ve had with them for seven years.”

Mary Poppins, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Wednesday-21 May, 7.30pm (matinees various times), £28-£61, 0131-529 6000