Bold theatrical spectacle sees actor Paul Higgins embrace Scotland’s post-punk music scene

On paper, Paul Higgins isn’t the ideal cast for a theatrical adaptation of This Is Memorial Device, the David Keenan novel that garnered awards and influential fans in 2017. To give the book its full title, who might more to the uninitiated of an idea of ​​its contents, This Is Memorial Device: An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Music Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and environs 1978–1986.

Paul plays Ross Raymond, the man who organizes the interviews and stories to piece together the history of local heroes and legends of the day – specifically a group called Memorial Device.

Not only had he not heard of the book when approached by David Greig, artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theater Company, but his life had no real parallel to Ross and the cast of characters – even if he was about the same age and brought up in Wishaw, eight miles from Airdrie.

“It should be something I went through, but those years were my drama school years,” Paul says. “Before that, I spent most of my teenage years at Xavarian Fathers Seminary in Coatbridge, where I was in training for the priesthood. It wasn’t until I left that I started to take an interest in theater and went to university in London.

“So I didn’t share that experience of guys who were 16 and had nothing to do.”

However, it helps to know where the pitch is, and during rehearsals he and his wife Amelia Bullmore, also an actress and writer and who was filming in Edinburgh while Paul was rehearsing in Glasgow, tried to leave and get away with it. head of the scripts for the weekend.

On the day of our conversation, they were heading to Pennan, as much for research as for relaxation; Paul’s next role is in the musical adaptation of Local Hero.

The intensity of the rehearsals – “there are a lot of lines” – and the fact that Paul is the only live actor on stage, with filmed performances and an audio performance for his company means that the pressure is much higher. The choice of location, the Wee Red Bar is key to adapting the novel to the stage.

“The change is that we’re here at the Wee Red Bar, where Memorial Device played their only gig in Edinburgh,” says Paul. “It can only hold about 100 people, so there’s no pretension and there’s no fourth wall. There is realism in that. »

Being essentially a one-man play, Paul was involved in how it would be staged and what would work best.

“The writing is so good that there was no problem in how it should be done. It has been worked on for some years by writer/director Graham Eatough and composer Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels.

The script I originally read was for five actors, I think, but it makes sense that it’s just Ross. It’s the work of his mind, to gather all this information and keep it. And it works very well with someone who has lots of memories, tapes and stories, like he did in the novel.

A change of approach came from the stage manager who advised Paul not to rehearse too much. Being part of a company means working and feeding on other characters, but having only actors filmed means learning to hold that space on its own. And having to learn all the lines.

“It hasn’t been too bad, because I always have a part of the day where I can look at the script. I don’t live in Glasgow and don’t have many friends or engagements here, so I can spend my time here very quietly.”

So the weekends with Amelia were essential to get your mind off the script.

Looking back isn’t part of most actors’ DNA and with This Is Memorial Device, Paul loves the fact that while the 1980s loom large, “it’s not about looking back. Rather, it is to say, how do we live? This is for all of us, including me as Ross. What do we do when we leave this room? »

As part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, This Is Memorial Device takes place at the Wee Red Bar Main Space, August 13-16, 18-23 and 25-29. 8:30 p.m.