Starting this article hurts, finding the words to sum up one of our countries greatest comics, actors, writers and his crowning achievement King of Pantomimes just a day after his untimely passing was announced still feels surreal and palpably untrue.
Andy Gray is gone at 61 and looking back at his life it’s a rich legacy of man who was born to perform and made the arts world his life. Starting out his career in his native Perth working at Perth Rep and Borderline along with connections to 7:84 and other ground breaking companies of the late 70’s and early 80’s . Andy rose to national promise thanks to his stints on BBC’s Naked Video which led in 1987 to the creation of “Chancer” opposite the Late Gerard Kelly in “City Lights”. Andy also put in spirited cameos in other Comedy Unit productions for the BBC including Rab C Nesbitt. Although the bulk of Grays Career was spent in his true love, the theatre, nothing matched the thrill of a live audience. Andy returned to our Screens in BBC Scotland’s “River City” as the beloved “Pete Galloway” in 2016. It was in River city that viewers got to see the depth of Andy’s acting skill. Although “Pete” had a strong comic element there were powerful scenes as the character battled mental health issues and Andy shone as the consummate actor, tears of laughter replaced with tears of raw emotion.
In the Theatre:
In the theatre mention the name Andy Gray and instantly people connect him to Pantomime and rightly so, but Andy had a varied career in the theatre including Straight drama, Musicals and classical theatre parts not to mention his stints performing in the Edinburgh Fringe.
Stints at all the major theatres across Scotland beckoned for Andy including “Werewolf” at the Traverse in Edinburgh, a rollicking performance as Nicely Nicely in Kenny Irelands acclaimed 2001 production of Guys and Dolls at the Royal Lyceum opposite his friend Elaine C Smith. 2002 saw Gray team up with his “City Lights” co star Gerrard Kelly for a production of “The Odd Couple” at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews which would then go on to tour the country.
Gray would return to the Royal Lyceum for Kenny Ireland in 2003 for Yasmin Rez’s “Art” performing with James Macpherson and Forbes Masson. Their combined timing was a reflection of perfection in modern theatre.
Later years would see him rack up credits in west end hit “Stones in his pockets” playing opposite his panto partner Allan Stewart. “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” and “I dreamed a dream” the Susan Boyle musical both with Elaine C Smith along with a spell in “A midsummer’s night dream”. Andy’s pedigree in the theatre will never be matched our indeed surpassed.
On The Fringe:
Andy became a regular at the Edinburgh Fringe popping up in 1999 in Theatre Archipelago’s “Communicado” although far from a smash hit success it gave Andy the taste for working in the constraints that the Fringe brings. 2005 saw him begin a long tenure with Gilded Balloon appearing Bob Steiner’s “A limited Run” at the Gilded Balloons Teviot House. It was to the Gilded Balloon in 2013 that Andy would return to team up with his Panto pal Grant Stott for a series of fringe adventures. 2013’s “Kiss me honey honey” written by Philip Meeks which was the runaway success of that year’s festival and returned in 2014. In the 2013 season Andy did double duty also performing in “God Bless Liz Locked” earning plaudits for both. 2015 saw Andy and Grant back in the Gilded Balloon Teviot for the darkly funny “Willie and Sebastian” in which Andy won the Stage Award for performing excellence. 2017 saw the pair move to Gilded Balloons new Space “The Rose Theatre” and there greatest success with “Double Feature” This play truly showcased how the partnership of Gray and Stott had matured working comedy with ease and pathos laden drama with equal skill it was a joy to watch. In 2018 Andy and Grant were scheduled to return to the Rose for Ruaraidh Murray’s “Junkies”. Andy completed one performance only as his diagnosis of blood cancer saw the cancellation of the run. Andy’s fringe adventures spanned over 25 years and the festival will be forever enriched by his contributions.
Andy’s true love and the part of his legacy he will be remembered for most is Pantomime. Especially his long tenure with the King’s Theatre Edinburgh. Taking to the Stage of the King’s first in 1999 playing opposite Allan Stewart’s buttons and Dorothy Paul’s Fairy Godmother in Cinderella it was the start of something uniquely special. The following year local radio and TV personality Grant Stott joined the cast for Dick Whittington and Stewart donned the frock as Dame Aunty May and the Golden Trio was born. 2006 saw the King’s mark its centenary with Cinderella once more gracing the stage as it had 100 years before. The curtain down of this season would see the start of what Andy himself would call “his wilderness years”. Gray would miss 2007’s Goldilocks, 2008’s Aladdin and 2009’s Robinson Crusoe panto’s at the Kings. Panto never left him though during those years appearing in London at the Barbican as Dame for Jonathan Harvey’s Pantomime and in Glasgow King’s panto opposite his old friend Gerard Kelly. Ultimately the King’s Edinburgh was always home and a rejuvenated Andy returned to the Kings in 2010 for Jack and Beanstalk dawning the crown as King Crumble. It was the King’s Edinburgh that Andy would spend the rest of his Pantomime life. 2018 saw the Kings announce Beauty and the Beast as that year’s panto. Andy was announced in the casting, but following his diagnosis, a great deal of soul searching and on the advice of his doctors he reluctantly took the year off. However he made an unscheduled appearance on stage during the curtain call near the end of the run, the raw emotion flowing over the footlights Andy then knew just how much he was loved by the Edinburgh audiences and what he meant to them. It fueled Andy for his comeback to panto in 2019’s Goldilocks and the three bears. Arriving on stage in a glitzy production number adorned with a Top Hat, the show stopped for a sustained standing ovation, Andy beaming in the spotlight, he had come home once more. Alas that’s the lasting memory panto audiences will have of him, that and his ability to latch onto a single word, balloon, banana or umbrella all words that on their own aren’t funny but give them to Andy, comedy joy was created. Andy Gray truly is and always will be the King of the King’s Pantomimes.
A Personal Reflection:
The greatest attribute of Andy Gray was his humanity, love and compassion regardless of how you met him, taxi driver, stage door keeper, fellow performer, journalist or even audience member you felt you knew Andy; he was a friend and a trusted one at that. For me I met Andy several times over the years at Panto and Theatre press nights, sharing many a laugh and glass or two of prosecco. In 2017 I ended up sharing a dressing room with Andy and Grant during that’s years Fringe, I was performing two musicals in rep which ran back to back with Andy and Grants “Double Feature”. The Captivate cast would be well into the second act of our shows when Andy arrived, to take up his space in the dressing room, it was always joyous, nothing got him down and the laughter would ring out as would the odd story of his adventures across his career which the younger members of our cast would devour. He and Grant were true professionals through and through, as we took our curtain call Andy and Grant would be on the stairs behind the stage waiting to get access to set up for their show. They spoke to every single cast member who passed them, saying well done and great show and you could tell by the sparkle in Andy’s eye he truly meant it. To share such an intimate space with Andy across the period of the festival was a true gift that’s left memories that will last a lifetime.
Andy Gray, comic, actor, writer, performer, father, grandfather, family member and friend you have been taken far too soon and the irony of your beating cancer with humor and good grace you were renowned for does not go un-noticed only to be taken so soon after that victory. None the less we say thank you, for all those years of joy, laughter and memories you’ve given to audiences across Scotland. You were a true gentleman filled in equal measure with compassion, love and talent. We shall never see your likes again, but we will always remember you, standing in the spotlight on the Kings Theatre Stage taking in the adulation you so richly deserved.
All at Scotsgay arts send our love to Andy’s Partner Tamara, Daughter Clare and all his family. Also to Allan Stewart, Grant Stott and the entire team at the King’s Theatre Edinburgh Pantomime.
Until we meet again,
Editor, Scotgay arts.