WHILE finishing touches – and they involve plenty of hay apparently – are being made to the stage at Gala Theatre, actor Ben Ingles has time from a brief break.
It’s his first time working in the region and he’s looking forward to seeing more of it, but so far it’s been all go in the run-up to tonight’s big opening of the first ever stage adaptation of All Creatures Great And Small.
Ben has the starring role as James Herriot, the pen name of Sunderland-born vet Alf Wight who based his popular series of books – which spawned TV films and the hit series starring Christopher Timothy – on his real-life experiences.
This premiere of Gala director Simon Stallworthy’s adaptation is a big occasion, set to ignite new interest in the novels just as the BBC is creating a new series based on Herriot’s early days at Glasgow Veterinary College.
But it was the funny, warm stories following the newly-qualified vet’s move to the Yorkshire Dales, where he joined the practice of Siegfried and Tristan Farnon, that captured the current generation of fans.
And there are lots of them. The late vet’s son Jim and daughter Rosie will also travel up to watch the play. Not surprisingly, 30-year-old Ben feels a weight of responsibility.
“They’re stories that so many people know and love.
“It’s a challenge in the sense that James Herriot is a very big part and I do feel a certain responsibility.”
He deliberately didn’t watch the BBC series.
“I’ll perhaps watch it later: I’m sure Christopher Timothy, and Simon Ward who also played him, were fantastic but I wanted to do my own take,” he explains.
Keen to learn about the man, he says: “I wanted to get to know about his personality.”
And, on a cast visit to Thirsk – the real setting of the stories’ fictional market town Darrowby – Wight’s daughter Rosie, who showed them around the veterinary practice- turned-museum, proved a huge help.
“We got to know things about Alf. She was the next best thing.”
Ben, keen to capture the essence of the man, adds: “What I got from Rosie is that he was a man with a huge passion for what he did.
“Even when he made loads of money he still worked every day.
“I want to get across those feelings as he comes to live in Darrowby: he turns up for a job, meets eccentric Siegfried and falls in love, not just with the Dales and people but he finds the girl he marries.”
South-based Ben’s past stage work has been Shakespeare and classics and he says: “It’s nice to do something that’s never been done before. It’s very exciting.”
Simon’s script focuses on the first Herriot books (there were eight). Playing Siegfried will be Henry Everett, from London, with Corbridge actor Jack Wharrier as Tristan. Jack, after landing the part, discovered his grandfather, a vet, had been friends with Wight, studying with him in Glasgow.
“It’s entirely coincidental and a little strange,” says Jack.
All Creatures Great And Small is at Gala Theatre, Durham, from tonight until October 16. Visit www.galadurham.co.uk or call 0191 332 4041.