Brian Pettifer on acting funny

Brian Pettifer. Pic: Comp
Brian Pettifer. Pic: Comp
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THE string vest has been replaced by a wig of stringy white hair, but there is no mistaking the wearer, Gregor Fisher, best known to TV viewers as Rab C Nesbitt.

Fisher plays the titular role in Yer Granny, the latest touring work from the National Theatre of Scotland, which toddles onto the stage of the King’s Theatre this evening for a week-long run.

Described as a ‘gallus comedy’, Fisher is joined on stage by a who’s who of Scottish theatre, including Barbara Rafferty, best know as Ella Cotter in Rab C Nesbitt, Jonathan Watson of Bob Servant fame, Still Game’s Paul Riley and Maureen Beattie.

Also in the cast is Brian Pettifer, star of 70s sitcom Get Some In, Still Game and recently seen as Poupart in BBC TV’s The Musketeers.

When we speak, he is waiting to go on stage. “We’ve just started the matinee but I’m not on for a bit,” says the 62-year-old.

Adapted by Douglas Maxwell from Roberto La Cossa’s La Nona, Argentina’s favourite play, Yer Granny is set in a Scots-Italian family fish and chip shop.

It’s Scotland, 1977. The Minerva Fish Bar has been shuttered and empty for a long time. Bust. But not for sale! Never! One day - so the family credo has it - she shall rise again and all will be well....

At the heart of the piece is a diabolical 100-year-old granny who is literally eating her family out of house and home. She’s already eaten their fish and chip shop into bankruptcy and now she’s working her way through their kitchen cupboards.

As proud head of the family, Cammy is determined that The Minerva Fish Bar will rise again and that family honour will be restored - and all in time for the Queen’s impending Jubilee visit.

But before Cammy can serve Her Maj a single sausage and get a Royal seal of approval, the family members must ask themselves how far they will go to solve a problem like Yer Granny...

Pettifer plays Donnie Francisco, a decrepit octogenarian lothario and sworn enemy of the Russo family.

“He’s an 80-year-old sex maniac who has a fish and chip shop. He may be physically falling to bits but his libido is as strong as ever,” explains Pettifer, agreeing that it’s a gem of a comedy role to land.

However, despite getting his big break as the fresh-faced Bruce Leckie alongside Robert Lindsey in the RAF sitcom Get Some In, Pettifer reveals he has never found ‘being funny’ easy.

“Comedy is a difficult thing to do, drama is a lot easier,” he says.

“I know people tend to think comedy is great fun, but it’s always a bit of a strain. Drama is great fun, comedy is more serious.”

And it doesn’t get easier with experience either, “It get’s harder as you get older. Of course, a lot depends on the part. If the part is good, you like to think you can make something of it.”

Which means Yer Granny should be something special, not only has Pettifer secured a great part, he is joined by a strong cast of Scottish talent too.

“It’s a great cast, fantastic,” he agrees. “I’ve worked with Gregor a lot, Johnny and Barbara too, and that gives you a shorthand. Without a doubt, it just makes it a lot easier.

“Looking on the stage you don’t think, ‘Oh, so and so would have been better at that part,’ which you usually do.

“Everyone is just spot on. It is rare that you can say that.”

Pettifer, whose other credits include Rab C Nesbitt, cousin Hughie in The Liver Birds and Dr Alfred Meyer in the film Conspiracy, also appeared in Hamish Macbeth, Still Game, and the BBC dramas Bleak House and The Field of Blood, in which he played Father Richards.

He is currently playing Honeyfoot in Sunday night BBC1 drama Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

An impressive career then, but he is refreshingly candid when asked about the secret of his success.

“I do think it’s all down to ability,” he says, matter-of-factly. “If you are a good electrician you will be working all the time. If you are a good actor you should be busy.”

Not that he still has the same passion for his chosen occupation. “Not quite. I don’t think anyone’s quite like that. It’s a different thing now, but that’s just the way of it. It’s still a pleasure to be in a show like this,” he offers.

And Pettifer, who made his movie debut in Lindsay Anderson cult 1968 film If... will be back in the Capital later this month for the opening of his latest film, Robert Carlyle’s comedy crime caper The Legend of Barney Thompson, which opens the 2015 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

“It’s opening the Film Festival so I’ll be through for the red carpet. We’re very excited about that, it’s a good slot to get,” he says, reflecting, “I never used to enjoy touring, then, about three years ago I did a show called Great Expectations, the first tour I’d done for years, and now I don’t mind it at all. I actually quite enjoy it.

“It’s always great to come to Edinburgh, I did King of Scotland there at the Assembly Rooms and it won a Fringe First, and I’ve worked there a lot so, it’s always a pleasure to come through.”

The King’s Theatre, Leven Street, until Saturday, 7.30pm (matinee 2.30pm), £14-£29.50, 0131-529 6000