For many performers, stepping out in front of a live audience with nothing but your imagination to draw upon is the kind of situation on which cold-sweat-soaked nightmares are made.
Ian Mclaughlin isn’t one of them, though. As a long-time member of popular North East improv troupe, The Suggestibles – and a well established improvisation teacher to boot – the Newcastle-based performer happily makes his on-stage living on the hoof, using shouted-out suggestions as creative fuel.
But when Live Theatre’s artistic director, Max Roberts suggested – albeit quietly over a pint – that a recent real-life experience offered the perfect premise for a one-man show, Ian’s first thought was “no”.
“We had a pint a couple of weeks after I’d been on this journey to find my dad,” he explains. “He said it was an amazing story and we should make a show out of it... but I was reluctant. For starters, I’ve never been keen on one-man shows. It normally involves people showing off and playing saxophones and stuff,” he laughs. “But then the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might resonate with people... maybe it was a story which should be told.”
And so it will be when Good Timin’ debuts at Live Theatre in July and also plays for 10 nights of Northern Stage’s Edinburgh Fringe residency at King’s Hall in August.
“I’m absolutely terrified,” admits Ian. “It’s not so much about learning the lines or anything like that – although of course writing things down and rehearsing is a complete departure for me – but it’s more about the fact it’s such a personal story, and I’ve written it myself.”
Terror aside, though, Ian says he has embraced the writing process. “I’ve really enjoyed sitting down and constructing something that’s solid. The thing about improvisation is that it’s ephemeral. You do it, it’s forgotten. So it’s nice to have something that you can return to.”
Although understandably unwilling to give too much away, Ian is happy to set the scene.
Having been brought up by his maternal grandparents – “my mum was 16 when she had be and they wanted to give her some semblance of a normal life” – Ian never knew his dad. “I’d never really thought about him much at all, really,” he says. “It wasn’t until I got into my forties that I started thinking there might be something missing in me, not knowing who this guy was or how much I was like him.
“So I set about finding him.”
And it’s this journey which forms the foundations of the show. “I’d always been interested in the nature vs nurture question and I’d always subscribed to nurture – you get out what you put in.
“But then here I was, seeing all these striking similarities between me and a man I had never met before... even our DVD collections matched up,” he laughs. “That made me want to find out more about what we pass on through our genes,” he continues. “So I’ve woven my story in with the science of genetics... and a bit of stand-up as well. You’ve got to keep it funny, haven’t you?
“Oh, and I’m a massive Dr Who fan, so I use the Tardis in the show to travel back and forwards through time,” he adds as an attention-getting aside. “The teaser is that Dr Who ends up playing a much more important role than you could ever imagine.” And if that doesn’t make you want to see it, I don’t know what will.
Good Timin’ plays Live Theatre from July 16 -19 and then from October 15-25. For tickets, call 0191 232 1232 or visit www.live.org.uk