Childhood memories inspired Phil Differ to write Double Feature

Double Feature stars Andy Gray and Grant Stott - pic: Steve Ullathorne
Double Feature stars Andy Gray and Grant Stott - pic: Steve Ullathorne

The curtain comes down on the current tour of Phil Differ’s comic two-hander Double Feature at The King’s in Edinburgh this week.

River City star Andy Gray and BBC Scotland Radio presenter Grant Stott star as Davey and Mikey, two old pals who have been granted their dream job clearing out their old local cinema.

In the process of stirring memories and recreating scenes from their favourite movies, their shared fanaticism for film soon makes way for bigger issues that have long remained unresolved.

Set against a backdrop of fading film posters, abandoned reels of film and cinema sets covered in dust, Double Feature sees Stott and Gray act out iconic moments from the history of Hollywood, but can they agree on an ending?

Phil says Double Feature was inspired by his life growing up in Kilsyth, specifically the hours spent at the King’s Cinema.

He said: “The play started life as a monologue entitled The Middle Aged Man’s Guide to the Ten Greatest Movies of All Time.

“I couldn’t find a middle-aged man willing to take it on as a performance piece so I re-named it Moving Pictures and re-wrote it as a three-hander for Oran Mor’s A Play, a Pie and a Pint where it ran for a week before successfully transferring to the Lemon Tree Theatre in Aberdeen for another seven day run.

“Round about this time last year, I heard from a mutual friend that Andy Gray and Grant Stott were looking for a two-hander to perform at the Edinburgh Festival.

“Andy and I go way back, we had worked together on Naked Video and I knew he, like me, was a big fan of movies and location catering.

“So, we arranged to meet up, four of us, Andy, Grant and I plus director Ryan Dewar and spent an entire evening talking about favourite scenes from favourite films and the joys of our childhood cinema going experiences.

“We were all singing from the same hymn sheet. Everyone got what it was all about, the enthusiasm was infectious so off I went and the re-writing process began.

“Two weeks later we were in rehearsals with the first draft of the new two hander version – now named Double Feature – and then the fun began.

“Rehearsals were a laugh, too much of a laugh. I had to force myself to leave so that the guys could get on with their work – we were spending hours re-enacting scenes from our favourite films and basically playing like kids.

“On the serious side we also discovered that the more we delved into the lives of the two characters Mikey (Andy) and Davy (Grant), and the more complex aspects of their relationship began to reveal themselves, the more attached to them we became, eventually finding ourselves having a genuine affection for our two new pals.”

Wearing his ‘pretentious’ playwright’s hat Phil describes Double Feature as being about regret and redemption, but wearing his punter’s hat he looks at it as a homage to the films he loved as a child and the cinemas in which he saw them.

Phil said: “The play is set in the projection room of an old cinema, the cinema the two characters attended as children, which is currently being demolished.

“As you would expect, the room is strewn with the sort of debris you would expect to see in such a place, projector, film reels/cans and old posters.

“Anyone attending can expect to witness tributes to epics like The Alamo, Where Eagles Dare, The Great Escape and hear tales of such Hollywood giants as Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston and Angus Lennie (Wee Shughie out of Crossroads).

Phil looks back finding on his time visiting the King’s Cinema and believes the offerings on the big screen shaped the man he would become.

He said: “My love of films goes all the way back to childhood. I was brought up in Kilsyth and the cinema was the focal point of my existence.

“It was more important for me than school or church, it was there I learned good from bad, right from wrong. Where my heroes lived.

“No doubt about it, my personality was at least in part shaped by the films I watched.

“A genuine excitement swept the town when a big film was coming. I would take a detour on the way home from school to the King’s Cinema to look at the poster and the lobby cards – the ‘wee pictures’ – that surrounded it in the display cabinet by the main door.

“This was the age of the epic, Ben Hur, Spartacus, Zulu, watching these films I experienced total involvement.

“I was absolutely caught up in the story, I never just watched the film, I was absorbed by the film, totally caught up in the story.

“And if the film had a sad ending, the goodies all got killed? I would analyse it, go over it again and again, try to work out if there was anything the good guys could have done to reverse the outcome.

“I still fondly remember the excitement of queueing up outside the King’s Cinema to see Jason and the Argonauts. They might look pretty basic now but at the time, Ray Harryhausen’s special effects were absolute state of the art. Of course, I didn’t know what special effects were, I thought the fighting skeletons and statues coming alive were real.

“It wasn’t just the films I loved, it was the whole magical experience – walking through the extravagantly tacky ornate gates, being almost knocked out by the smell of disinfectant emanating from the toilets, buying my ticket and being unable to pass the confectionery counter without succumbing to the temptation of an iced drink/bar of pink nougat combination.

“Then there were the people who worked there, the glamorous (to me) women in their sexy (to me) uniforms selling Cornish Mivvis and Kia-Ora orange drinks, the manager/projectionist and of course, the obligatory psycho with the torch. To me, these people were on the first rung on the ladder of show business.

“The local cinema was another world, a technicolor escape from an otherwise grey existence.

“That’s why writing Double Feature was a labour of love. It gave me the excuse to delve back into those fantastic times and re-examine the films that had a big impact on me and try to discover why.”

The play isn’t just a love letter to the golden age of cinema, it is also about friendship, long lasting friendships and the problems that can come with them.

Phil said: “Like most friendships that start in childhood and continue into adulthood liberties are taken, presumptions are made, tensions exist and these issues are explored too.

“From the outset we know that it was trips to their local cinema that brought this pair together, is there a danger that the same place could tear their friendship apart?”

Double Feature starts at 8pm on Friday and Saturday (May 18 and 19) at The King’s in Edinburgh and runs for approximately one hour with the second half of the evening consists of a Q&A session.

It was during this section of the evening that the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles threw up one of the most surprising and funniest moments of the tour.

Phil said: “Andy – who does an excellent Sean Connery as James Bond – demonstrates this in the play. During the Q&A, a voice from the audience complimented Andy on his ‘excellent Roger Moore’.

“Slightly confused, Andy peered into the audience only to realise that the disembodied voice belonged to Jason Connery, Sean’s son and as it happens a good friend of Andy’s who had come along unannounced to see his old pal in action.”

For further information and tickets click here