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Mon 01 Oct 2012
BETTER the devil you know, as the saying goes.
York Mystery Plays 2012 star Graeme Hawley was in the right place at the right time, playing Satan in the Museum Gardens, when York Theatre Royal artistic director Damian Cruden duly cast him in the contrasting lead role of maverick plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe in The Guinea Pig Club.
Graeme began rehearsals earlier this week for this autumn’s premiere of Susan Watkins’s new drama.
Watkins recounts how, at the outset of the Second World War, McIndoe swapped fashioning noses of starlets for pioneering the most challenging procedures in medical history: the complete reconstruction of the human face.
His guinea pig patients were the savagely burned fighter pilots and aircrew who helped to thwart the German invasion of Britain.
In Watkins’s play, McIndoe soon discovers that all his efforts in the operating theatre are futile unless he can also save the shattered man behind the face. This becomes his mission and his own salvation, although he comes up against Rusty Rushford, a suicidal Spitfire pilot burned beyond all recognition, who is both unconvinced and antagonistic.
Yet McIndoe will not be stopped, even if it means persuading a young nurse, Alice, to “play up to Rusty”’ to help him envisage a meaningful future. The maverick McIndoe then tackles the attitude of the rest of society as “Don’t turn away” becomes his battle cry.
On Tuesday, at the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington , Graeme Hawley and fellow cast member Fiona Dolman met one of McIndoe’s “guinea pigs”, 89-year-old former glider pilot Dr Sandy Saunders, from Melton Mowbray, who had suffered serious burns in a training crash in 1945.
“It’s an incredible experience to meet Sandy while embarking on a project like this,” said Graeme, at Tuesday’s read-through of the play at Elvington.
He is savouring linking up with Mystery Plays co-director Damian Cruden for a second time. “Having had a wonderful, memorable summer working on the York Mystery Plays 2012, I had no hesitation in returning to work again with Damian in York,” he says.
“The Guinea Pig Club promises to be another triumph for York Theatre Royal, with its record for producing great work, and the whole subject matter is one I’ve found very interesting while researching the role.”
Graeme, 37, played the ultimate baddie, Satan, in the Mystery Plays, having earlier made his name as one of Coronation Street’s most infamous villains, John Stape.
Graeme was nominated for Villain of the Year in the 2009 and 2011 British Soap Awards for a role whose story lines involved kidnap, manslaughter and murder before Stape met his maker, exiting the soap in October 2011 after crashing into the back of a lorry during a car chase.
He is joined in Cruden’s ten-strong cast by Fiona Dolman in the role of head nurse Sister O’Donnell. She is best known for playing DCI John Barnaby’s wife, Sarah, in Midsomer Murders; PC Mike Bradley’s wife, Jackie, in Heartbeat and Miss Pamela Andrews in The Royal Today, ITV’s daytime spin-off from The Royal.
Further roles go to Stefano Braschi as Rusty Rushford; Jack Ashton as Hugh Lockhart; Anna O’Grady as Alice Harwood; Sarah Applewood as Frances Day; Tim Lewis, Peter; Alex Braatz, Mike; Rollo Skinner, Nick; and George Ure, Tom.
Damian Cruden has assembled a production team of designer Joanna Scotcher, who designed The Railway Children at the National Railway Museum; lighting designer Richard G Jones; sound designer John Leonard; and musical director and arranger Christopher Madin, whose music was so integral to the impact of the York Mystery Plays 2012.
• The premiere of The Guinea Pig Club will be presented by York Theatre Royal and Vroom Productions at the Theatre Royal from October 5 to 27. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk