A play with top reviews, by George

Ewan Wardrop, star of Formby
Ewan Wardrop, star of Formby
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Imagine being someone else for a few months.

For Ewan Wardrop that’s pretty much what happens and it isn’t always easy.

The 38-year-old actor and comedian has penned a play about the life of one of Blackpool’s most famous residents George Formby, a play which has received incredibly good reviews and which comes to the Lowry Theatre for the next three nights, starting tonight.

“It is going great and I’m really pleased with the reaction to it but it is very hard work,” said Wardrop.

“Formby was such an upbeat character and to have to keep that persona each night for months on end is tough.

“It’s a one-man play so I also have to swap into other characters. I’m George’s wife at one point, and also his mum and dad, so it is pretty exhausting by the time you get off stage. There’s also a bit of dancing...so you get the idea that it’s a difficult show to do.”

Fortunately it is a labour of love, for Wardrop, who grew up in Devon, was a Formby fan as a kid.

“I know it’s not something you hear often – he’s not the type of person young kids normally like. Laurel and Hardy were cooler, Harold Lloyd as well, Formby was more a curiosity I think,” admitted Wardrop.

“But I just always liked him. His films were on BBC2 during the summer holidays when I was off school and he appealed to me.

“I got a ukelele about 15 years ago, found an old one in a junk shop, and learned a few of his songs.

“I never thought about doing a show about him but I was acting in a play the other year and was messing about singing Formby songs in my dressing room. Another actor called Ed Hughes came in, liked it and said we should do something. That’s where the idea for a show started and Ed is the director of it.”

Formby originally wanted to become a jockey but went on to become one of Britain’s biggest stars, at the height of his fame in the 30s and 40s, known for his comical songs, as well as appearing in many films.

He was a Wigan lad but he moved to the resort (living in St Annes at the time of his death in 1961, aged 56) and one of his most famous songs was With My Little Stick Of Blackpool Rock, banned by the BBC for its suggestive lyrics.

Wardrop has been to Blackpool only once, but liked what he saw.

“I came to one of the George Formby Society conventions in the town and managed to drag my wife along, reluctantly on her part I must admit, but we had a great time,” he said.

“I’m a West End actor really but a major part of me has always liked to entertain or to watch something entertaining and that is what Blackpool is all about.

“It is a terrific place, unique, and it has such a rich entertainment history. I loved it.”

So to the Formby show, which begins its three-night run at the Lowry this evening.

The production, described as ‘a little stick of theatrical dynamite’ by one national critic, features many of Formby’s classic hits, including Leaning on a Lamp-post, When I’m Cleaning Windows, and TT Races.

Opening to critical acclaim at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it is not only a celebration of one of Britain’s greatest performers but a funny, touching and thoughtful look at the life of an essentially ordinary man with an extraordinary talent.

“A lot of older people come to see the show, because they know about George Formby, but it is for all ages – we’ve written it for people across the board,” added Wardrop.

“It is very biographical, the story of his life, and I think people will enjoy what they see.”

For more information and tickets visit www.thelowry.com/event/formby or call 0843 208 6000.