The Man Who didn’t listen to his teachers

editorial image

IT is a good job that Queen’s graduate Chris Grant didn’t listen to his teachers - or at least one of them. The one who told him he couldn’t sing...

The Annaclone man behind Chatterbox Productions who also acts and dances in many of the shows he produces, is now taking singing lessons for his forthcoming role - in ‘Death (On a Shoestring)’ by the Accidental Theatre group.

The play, described as a “darkly funny adventure” in a politically incorrect afterlife, will be on stage as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s and also at the Baby Grand at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, at the end of October.

“It is a play with songs and dancing, so I thought it was time I learned to sing properly,” says the young actor who claims this skill by-passed him while growing up. “I have ended up working in the theatre industry where I produce plays, act on stage and dance, so I thought singing would come in useful as well.

“It has taken this long because I was once told in secondary school that I couldn’t sing. The student productions were mostly musicals, but in one there was a speaking part - and I got it. ”

Whether real or imagined, his perceived inability to hold a tune in his head did not deter any theatrical ambitions and Chris - whose sister Catriona is also involved in the world of drama - went on to star in many successful productions as a young student while simultaneously flexing his muscles as part of the Queen’s elite dance team.

His most ambitious project to date has been getting involved with Chatterbox Productions along with fellow Queen’s graduates Eilise McNicholas and Ciara McCafferty who formed the vibrant new drama group following a visit to Edinburgh Festival a couple of years ago.

“Eilise and Ciara had brought the play ‘Please Patricia’ by Seamus Collins, another Queen’s graduate, to Edinburgh and I was asked along as the lighting designer,” explains Chris, who produced six acclaimed Romeo and Juliet plays specifically for schools while a Drama student at university. “We had a fantastic experience and Eilise and Ciara asked me to come on board with Chatterbox.”

The fact he was still involved with running the ‘Kaleidoscope’ theatre group at the time (he formed it while a 17 year-old student at St Colman’s College in Newry) did not deter the dedicated thespian who subscribes to the principle of ‘big risks, big gains’.

It is a strategy which has paid off, as the trio’s current play, ‘The Man Who’ - also penned by the award-winning Collins - earned excellent reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe this year and sold out in the recent Pick n Mix festival at the MAC in Belfast.

“Now we are returning to Belfast with a full version of the play, so we are all really excited,” says Chris, who, as well as producing is starring in the inventive farce intriguingly described as a “weird and wonderful tale of love, rivalry and making the wheel rounder...”

“’The Man Who’ is set shortly after the dawn of time and I play Dr Benedict Bloom, the narrator,” he adds. “It is totally farcical and I hope everyone will have a really good laugh.

“Comedy is a brilliant form of theatrical entertainment and Seamus’s script is bristling with humour. If you can make people laugh, you know you’ve done a good job.”

In fact, the show quickly became the hottest ticket in town during the Pick n Mix Festival and the MAC duly invited the production back for a full-blown performance at the venue on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week.

“We are delighted to return to the MAC where our pilot of this show sold out earlier in the year,” says Chris. “Teaming up with BBC award-winning writer, Seamus Collins, has been fantastic for us. We’ve developed a comedy which has gone down really well with audiences both here and in Edinburgh.

“This year has been amazing for us and our appearance at the MAC gives us another opportunity to bring our work to a wider audience.”

But an actor/producer’s lot is not an easy one and the Annaclone man is currently spending long hours rehearsing - both as Dr Bloom in ‘The Man Who’ and for the forthcoming ‘Death (On a Shoestring)’.

“It’s hard work, but I could never imagine doing anything else,” he adds. “You get to be whoever you want to be in the theatre - and you could get no better job than that.”