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Richard Dormer snookered by BBC's Alex Higgins drama

By Claire McNeilly

Published 26/09/2015

Actors Will Merrick (Steve Davis), Luke Treadaway (Alex Higgins) and James Bailey (Jimmy White) in The Rack Pack
Actors Will Merrick (Steve Davis), Luke Treadaway (Alex Higgins) and James Bailey (Jimmy White) in The Rack Pack
Alex Higgins in his heyday
Alex Higgins as played by Richard Dormer on stage
Alex Higgins and Richard Dormer together

Movie star Richard Dormer has always wanted to play late Northern Ireland snooker legend Alex Higgins on screen ­- but somebody has just beaten him to it.

The Co Armagh actor, whose one-man stage show Hurricane about the troubled genius of the green baize was a critical and commercial success, has been busy writing a screenplay for a film based on Higgy's latter years.

Dormer (45) was prepared to lose a substantial amount of weight in order to portray The Hurricane, who squandered millions on drink, drugs and gambling and who died, aged 61, five years ago alone and penniless in his native Belfast after a battle with cancer.

Now, however, the BBC has rolled out The Rack Pack, a comedy drama about the rivalry between the unpredictable, often outrageous Higgins and the quiet, unflappable Englishman Steve Davis. Exeter-born Luke Treadaway - who starred alongside Dormer in Sky's Nordic drama Fortitude - plays Higgins, with Will Merrick as Davis.

The movie, directed by Brian Welsh, will be broadcast initially as a BBC iPlayer exclusive in early December. "Higgins was to snooker what George Best was to football - a Northern Ireland folk hero whose mesmerising talent made for a fascinating, world-class champion on the snooker table, but his explosive personality made for a troubled life off it," said Shane Allen, the BBC's controller of comedy commissioning. "Our cast is perfect to do this vibrant story and era justice."

The Rack Pack features Higgins in his late twenties and early thirties and would clearly not overlap on Dormer's more serious-minded screenplay about the post-retirement decline of the two-time World Snooker Champion.

Ironically, Dormer has no interest in snooker as a sport, but has always been fascinated by the rise and fall of Higgins, whom he met by chance at Connolly Station in Dublin and was instantly smitten by "this incredibly charismatic and intense figure".

"He was ordering a pint of Pernod," Dormer told the Belfast Telegraph in 2013.

"We shared the journey back to Belfast. He wanted to swap jackets with me, but my girlfriend had given it to me as a present and I didn't want to. He told me where to go.

"It was a bad start. But at the end of the journey he came over to me with a bottle of Tennent's and said: 'No hard feelings, kid'. I just thought: 'He's a good guy'."

That train journey inspired him to write the play, which won the BBC Stewart Parker Award for New Writing and The Stage Edinburgh Fringe Best Actor award. The movie was to be a natural progression.

"I'm basing it on the latter part of his life, and I'll be playing him," said Portadown-born Dormer.

Although Higgins has not been portrayed directly on screen before, a mercurial Irish snooker player, clearly based on him, was played by Bob Geldof in the 1985 movie Number One.

Belfast Telegraph

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