Great expectations of Upper Deeside actor

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ONE of Upper Deeside’s most popular sons, professional actor Gordon Brandie, is currently appearing at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, in a stunning production of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations which could soon be destined for London’s West End.

Gordon, 42, plays the minor role of villain Bentley Drummle, but has a major commitment as understudy for three other parts, including that of Adult Pip, the central male character who is on stage throughout…and in that role, he has had something of a Royal premiere.

“When we were doing our Understudy Rehearsal recently in Malvern, Prince Edward came along to see us,” explained Gordon. “He was very interested in what we were doing and spoke to everybody. I kept thinking I should tell him I’m from Ballater – we both have connections with Deeside!”

Gordon’s own life story of theatrical rags to riches, which is still unfolding, would have made a Dickens plot in itself, and this particular production marks several firsts for the young man who was plucked from obscurity by Aboyne’s remarkable music director Nan Keen when he was just a teenager, and set on a road to theatrical and broadcasting success alongside some of the biggest names in the business.

His current glittering list of co-stars include the familiar faces of Jack Ellis, the arch baddie Fenner from Bad Girls, Chris Ellison (DI Burnside from The Bill) and Paula Wilcox whose many credits include Emmerdale and Man About the House.

The HMT performances of Great Expectations which runs until Saturday (November 10) is the only opportunity for Scottish audiences to see Jo Clifford’s new adaptation of the Dickens classic, which includes the drunken, wife beating Bentley Drummle character for the first time.

Gordon, whose television credits include Sea of Souls and Taggert, is better known to North-east theatre audiences as the comic or romantic lead in musicals like Me and My Girl or Sweet Charity. As an actor, however, he has been delighted to meet the challenge. “It’s a brilliant adaptation,” he said, adding: “It’s lovely to play a nasty character for a change.”

A former pupil of Ballater Primary and Aboyne Academy, Gordon trained as a chef at Ballater’s Alexandra Hotel, but his heart was on a stage and not in a kitchen. Former Deeside Musical Society director Nan Keen, still one of his greatest fans, spotted him reading some of his own poetry and encouraged him to develop his talents as a singer, actor and dancer.

When Gordon moved to Aberdeen to work for British Home Stores, he still returned to the Aboyne stage to star in Nan’s musicals, while branching out to work for other theatre companies including Limelight and Attic in the city. Meanwhile, his talents did not go unnoticed at his day job, where he was quickly recruited to play different characters to enhance staff training.

At the age of 31, with out-of-date qualifications and little hope of success in his quest, Gordon auditioned for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, gaining a place in a class of mostly younger students.

“They took me on because of my theatrical experience in Aberdeen and Aboyne, and my life experience,” explained Gordon. “It was a bit of a chance, but I just didn’t want to get to 50 or 60 and look back, wishing I had done it.”

As if to prove himself, Gordon went on to win the Duncan Macrae Memorial Award for Scottish Accents, sharing the plaque with former winners like Robert Carlyle, and – in his final year – was named Spotlight Actor of the Year.

Gordon’s first professional appearance on the HMT stage was as a transvestite dancer in Scottish National Opera’s production of La Traviata, when he had to shave his chest and underarms to appear feminine in a specially fitted dress.

“This time,” he laughed, “rather than shave it all off, I’ve had to grow my hair, a moustache and sideburns. And there’s no dress!”

The Great Expectations role is living up to its name for Gordon, giving him two more firsts…the first man to play the new role and the first time his name has been in a published script.

He is excited about the prospect of appearing in the West End, even if it means giving up the Glasgow home he happily shares with BBC Radio Scotland’s Kaye Adams and her family.

The support of Gordon’s mum Helen, and a large group of family and friends, have been vital to the success he has worked so hard for, but he also singles out the “amazing” Nan Keen of Aboyne as giving him the confidence all those years ago with DMS, which he describes as “the most professional amateur company ever”.

In her turn, Nan said Gordon was a “multi-talented actor who was always a joy to work with” and that, given a little luck, which all actors need, he is sure to reach the top of his profession.

*In connection with the Dickens Trust, a royalty share of the box office takings from Great Expectations will go to organisations dealing with issues the author cared about, including prison reform, adoption and literacy. Tickets from www.boxofficeaberdeen.com, or 01224 641122.