|Alexander West plays Bill Shankly|
Alexander West On ... Shankly
Date: 11 December 2009
Scottish actor Alexander West plays one of Liverpool’s most famous adopted citizens next week when he treads the boards once again as the iconic Bill Shankly.
The Shankly Show was commissioned for Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations and appeared at the Liverpool Olympia for one night in April last year.
Written and directed by Andrew Sherlock, the production was given an extended two-week run in October 2008 at the Royal Court Liverpool, proving to be a huge hit.
Now, as part of the 50th anniversary marking Shankly’s appointment to Liverpool Football Club, The Shankly Show is being staged for a third time in the city.
Where in Scotland are you from? Do you still live in those parts?
I’m a Glaswegian. I went to drama college in the Royal Scottish Academy in Glasgow, which is the same one David Tennent – Dr Who – went to. All the best Scottish actors went to that college! I still live in Glasgow. A lot of actors head to London but I was one of the ones who stayed up north and have managed to find loads of work in the theatres.
What got you involved with acting?
At school I would skive off and I did drama. It was a good skive. You got off in afternoons and did a wee bit of acting but I got into it and suddenly I found this thing and thought, ‘right, I’ve got to do this.’ And so I went into amateur drama. I left school and became an accountant first of all and did some amateur drama. Then I realised - very quickly - acting was what I wanted to do and went to drama college, managing to get a place. So I’ve been doing acting for the last 35 years.
Are you grateful to Jonathan Watson having diary commitments which meant you got the opportunity to play Shankly last April?
Oh yes. In this business you just never know what is around the corner. And I didn’t think I’d got the part anyway. I just thought, ‘it sounded good and the script was great but never mind’. Then things happen. Bang. You get another chance. I nearly didn’t even go to the audition because I thought I couldn’t play Bill Shankly. I thought he was too tough, whereas I’m more of a lightweight and he’s a middleweight. But I just loved listening to that voice of his and I loved football and I thought, ‘come on, you’re an actor, get it in there’. And the rest is history now.
What have you been doing since the last run of The Shankly Show?
An awful lot of people would like us to do it in Scotland and we’ve been offered dates in Glasgow, Perth and Dundee. We did a couple of little shows including one in Gretna and one near where Shankly was born in south Ayrshire because they were having a festival which they have every year. There were just 80 people but it was great and it was in a miners welfare, not like how it’s going to be in the BT Convention Centre, but the atmosphere was the same and the story is the same. Shankly’s great nieces and great nephew came to see it – who are in their sixties now – and they knew him as uncle Will. They said to me, ‘you’re just like uncle Will – your voice’.
Have some Everton FC supporters complimented your performance?
Oh aye. Grown men as well have come up in tears saying in broad Scouse accents, ‘that was great that lad’. But with the Everton supporters they said they had to put there fingers in their ears when I started singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone!’ It was great from everyone, though. But the warmth that Shankly had and the affection he had is why. Obviously they’re a captive audience because they are Liverpool fans but I don’t think there is any doubt that even people who weren’t passionate football or Liverpool fans enjoyed it. For instance, my sisters came down and they know their football and they know who Shankly was but they are not football fans as such. But they thought it was great and the audience members they were sat with made it such a great atmosphere. They were a great crowd they said.
Would you say Liverpool people are similar to Glaswegians?
Bill mentions that about the similarities between Liverpool and Glasgow. They have the same passionate feelings about their football. In Glasgow, there are Rangers and Celtic fans and here it’s Liverpool and Everton fans and it’s got the same ‘we are the best’ feeling between the clubs’ supporters. I was also working in Glasgow during its Capital of Culture year, doing some outdoor theatre shows, and the difference it made to the city was fabulous. It gave that impetus of moving on and Liverpool has taken that baton on and got on with it.
If you could meet Bill Shankly tomorrow what one question would you ask him?
Gosh, that’s a good question. Probably, ‘why did you leave - come back!’ And ‘just speak to me. Tell me about anything’. I think you could have just asked him anything. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even have to ask him a question, he would just say, ‘Right son, tell me about you?’ And then he would go off and talk and talk. I remember reading something his wife Nessie said - bless her - and she would say that whenever she had friends around she wouldn’t put Bill in with them because he would just start talking about football!
Do you have the same passion about acting as Shankly had about football?
Of course I’m passionate acting but I don’t think anyone can be as passionate about what they do as much as he was passionate about football. He would say, ‘Life is about football and there is a way to live your life and there is a way to play your football and if you do it right, you’ll be fine!’ And it’s that passion he had. I wish I had that in my acting. Even if he wasn’t a football manager I think Shankly would have been the best at whatever he did.
Alexander West was speaking to Michael Hunt
The Shankly Show appears at the Liverpool BT Convention Centre for two nights on Thursday 17 December and Friday 18 December. For tickets, which are priced £25-£35, call the box office on 0844 8000 400.
*Photograph taken by David Munn
- by Michael Hunt
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