On The Night Shift

Craig Conway is going back to his board-treading roots for his latest on-stage challenge.

Craig Conway is going back to his board-treading roots for his latest on-stage challenge. Sam Wonfor catches up with him.

Craig Conway has what you might say was a diverse few months ahead.

Tomorrow night, [wed], the popular Geordie actor will return to his Northern Stage stomping ground with two-handed drama, The Night Shift for a four-night stay before going off on a UK tour with the production.

When that finishes on November 25, Craig will go straight into rehearsals for his snot-gobbling role in Newcastle Theatre Royal's pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, alongside his fiancée Jill Halfpenny and then there's the 2007 nuptials.

"I am looking forward to the honeymoon," confesses the 30-year-old with a laugh as we sit ourselves comfortably with a coffee at Newcastle's Pitcher and Piano presumably he's welcoming the prospect of some uninterrupted time with his soon-to-be-wife, while not having to be dressed as the Snot Gobbler?

"Well, that will be a bonus," he says.

Although Craig obviously has a very full diary between now and the blissful tranquility of his post-marriage getaway, it's The Night Shift which we have gathered to talk about. The play has provided for a plethora of reunions. Firstly a welcome re-pairing of Craig with writer/director Mark Murphy.

The theatrical twosome first came together for Northern Stage's A Clockwork Orange in the early 1990s, and then repeated the relationship for the company's acclaimed production of 1984. "It felt like we'd been performing it since 1984 by the time we finished at The Lyric," remembers Craig with an exhausted smile.

Secondly, the production brings Craig and Mark back to Northern Stage - the place of their first meeting (although it's undergone somewhat of a refit - to the tune of £9m - in the decade-or-so which has passed since) - and back to a play which they both worked on when it was in its most infant of infancies.

Lastly, the play sees Craig once again starring alongside actress Catherine Dyson although even the most avid follower of Craig or Catherine's work would have trouble placing them together.

"We both played monsters in The Descent," Craig reveals, referring to Neil Marshall's horrific (in the nicest possible way) movie of 2005.

Appropriately as we get the coffees in and revert to the reason for our chat, we're joined by Mark, who is happy to give his overview of the play.

"Without giving too much away, there are two separate worlds to begin with. There are two young people in a relationship and then an older gentleman who is visited by someone who is doing some research on the effects of childhood on the adult.

"Gradually the worlds come together as it reaches its climax - revealing that the worlds are interconnected. We see the effect of a father on his daughter and how that effects who the daughter is seeking out in her relationships. It's quite a tangled web to begin with which becomes crystal clear," he promises.

"We did a scratch version of the play a few years ago with Craig. It has been through three lives, through a number of different cast members but now it has the cast it deserves."

High praise indeed for Mr Conway, given the glowing reviews the play has had in some of its previous lives.

"Mark has been really good to me, calling to see if we could work together on this again," says Craig. "So when the opportunity came up to go to Singapore (they recently took the production there for a two-night, sell-out stay), and then do this tour, I was really pleased that I was able to do it.

"The first appeal was working with Mark again. That kind of relationship just went on from us working together at Northern Stage all those years ago. And it's great to be working on this piece again, having done a quite different earlier version. It's nice to do it now it's in its finished state. It has been radically re-written - it almost feels like a new show.

"Also, this play is completely different to the Northern Stage productions we have done in the past. It's all about the theatrical performance. There's no paraphernalia to support it. It's very raw. There's basically two actors on a stage with really strong dialogue."

Although the production features four characters, it is actually a two-handed piece - providing Craig and Catherine with two roles (and many costume changes) each.

* The Night Shift plays Stage Two at Northern Stage from tomorrow until Saturday. Tickets to Stage Two are free, but booking is recommended. Call (0191) 230-5151.

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