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Why I will be in tears watching TV tonight

By Frances Burscough

Published 12/12/2015

Frances Burscough
Frances Burscough

I was absolutely delighted when my younger son decided to pursue a career as an actor. Although there are no guarantees of success, fame or even regular money, he is both following his passion and maximising his greatest talent, which, as far as I am concerned, is the right way forward for anyone.

From the moment he could walk and talk, Finn was a born entertainer. In primary school he was described as the joker of every class, keeping everyone,including the teachers, amused around the clock.

It was only at secondary school, however, that this talent for entertaining was channelled into something really positive. I’ll never forget the first time Finn performed on stage at Bangor Grammar School. It was a comic re-interpretation of the epic film 300 about the legendary Spartan army, “written and adapted for the stage” (in a slapstick style, that is) by his older brother Luke, who was a sixth former at the time. Finn had the part of King Leonidas and wore a helmet hewn from a plastic bucket with a crest made out of a kitchen mop. He delivered his lines so seriously with such zeal and passion — even though the audience were in stitches of laughter — and never once lost his cool or cracked a smile. At the end of the evening, the school’s principal awarded Finn a trophy for the best performance and, instead of quietly accepting it and walking off, he strode to the front of the stage, brandishing his trophy in the air and shouted: “This is for my brave army! Now go forth: for tonight we dine in hell!”

But it hasn’t all been comedy belly laughs. Far from it. In fact, Finn has played so many tragic roles in the last few years that I now take a handkerchief with me to every production. In his first play at Bangor Drama Club — a one-act production called Sharkey — he played the part of a poverty-stricken burglar who broke into a church to steal the collection money and was then shot dead by police. It was so sad and so convincing that I left the auditorium in tears.

Next up, his school production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This was a brilliant adaptation of the famous novel and film, in which the entire ground floor of the new Bangor Grammar School building was transformed into a psychiatric institution. Finn took the part of Chief Bromden, the Native American who pretends to the staff to be a deaf mute but speaks to the audience in heart-wrenching soliloquys in which he hallucinates about the torture and trauma he had experienced during the WW2. Needless to say, I was in bits by the end of the play, with tears streaming down my face in channels of liquid black mascara.

After that was the very memorable stage production of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, held at Bangor’s Studio Theatre. In this, Finn had the part of Boxer, an old faithful carthorse. I knew the part was going to be a proper tear-jerker when Finn warned me that half the cast were in tears at the rehearsals. Sure enough, once again I had to watch my son suffer in front of my eyes for the sake of art. This time he literally worked himself to death and all the characters on stage were inconsolable ... as was I, once again, in the audience. Ok, he may have been dressed in a shire horse costume, but it was still my son on stage. When it’s your own flesh and blood, suspending disbelief is never easy. Also, it didn’t help that they played a really sad song as they carried his lifeless body off stage.

So there’s been a bit of a running joke. One of these days, I said, I’ll look forward to you playing a part when you don’t actually come to a horribly sticky end.

I spoke too soon. Tonight, on UTV, Finn makes his television debut, starring in an advert that will be shown across the UK for the first time during the ad break on The X Factor final. Now, he is sworn to secrecy about the storyline, so I know very little about it. What I do know, however, is that it is one of those road safety adverts by the DOE and he is the lead character. I don’t suppose there’s any point in holding out for a happy ending, is there? I’d better get a tissue at the ready. Actually, perhaps I should fetch a whole box ...

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