The Fringe, the booze and the Scots chicken

Hit comedian, writer and actress Lynn Ferguson talks to Veronica Lee about her new play 'Kindling'
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The Independent Culture

For someone who professes to have a rampant ego and be self-obsessed, Lynn Ferguson does a pretty good impression of being a normal, well-rounded individual. She pays tribute to the part other people have played in her success and she is sanguine about the time it has taken to find her métier. And despite being one of the Fringe's most famous drinkers, she will only take coffee during our lunchtime meeting, as she will appear on stage in her new play a couple of hours later.

For someone who professes to have a rampant ego and be self-obsessed, Lynn Ferguson does a pretty good impression of being a normal, well-rounded individual. She pays tribute to the part other people have played in her success and she is sanguine about the time it has taken to find her métier. And despite being one of the Fringe's most famous drinkers, she will only take coffee during our lunchtime meeting, as she will appear on stage in her new play a couple of hours later.

Ferguson, 35, was once one of the few, and most abrasive, female stand-ups on the circuit. But over the past few years she has turned herself into a writer of distinction, using a sparse monologue style that few tyro writers nowadays attempt after Alan Bennett cornered the market. Her first play, the award-winning Heart and Sole, was about a woman who falls in love with a fish, while Frank (set in a comedy club) crossed the conventions of stand-up and drama. In both she played all the characters.

Her new play, Kindling (for which she has been nominated Best Actress in The Stage awards), follows this "series of monologues" style, although for the first time she has written parts for other actors - Hope Ross and Robert Paterson - as her parents. One critic attacked the play's format, but Ferguson says she missed the point. "This is family that doesn't communicate, and I thought the fact that they never speak directly to each other might be obvious."

The play's central idea - about a family obsessed with fireworks - was sparked by a childhood experience of Ferguson's. "When I was 16, a guy I was at school with hanged himself on Bonfire Night. I really liked him and I felt that he deserved some recognition. I know that makes me sound like a big nancy wanker but the metaphor was already there and I wanted to say something about people having choices. He didn't take the opportunity to change his life and I've caught myself doing that over the years."

In what way? "I know I should be going to Hollywood but I don't feel ready. I'm being nagged to go by people who say it isn't all about silicone tits and that being a mouthy broad can bring you success. But I am a bit scared about going into another industry in another country."

Ferguson, who has lived for the past few years in London, has long been a famous name in Scotland. But she has lacked nationwide recognition, despite television appearances and her Radio 4 sitcom, Millport, set in a windswept Scottish seaside town. I ask if, because of her accent and demeanour, she is perceived as resolutely Scottish. "I could have changed that but never have - where you come from is part of who you are and I am not ashamed of it. But I'm not talking on behalf of Scotland and I can assure you there are many, many people all over this country who are frantically not giving a f--k about anything I have to say."

Ferguson was raised in Cumbernauld, a Glasgow overspill development, the youngest of four children in an aspirational working-class family. One of her brothers is the comedian Craig Ferguson, who has relocated to Hollywood where he wrote and acted in last year's The Big Tease and is a regular on The Drew Carey Show.

Ferguson thinks that her elder brother's move into showbiz - "Craig always knew that he was going to leave" - made her decision to go to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama easier. "I think I would've been too scared otherwise." But having a brother in the industry was a double-edged sword, as one Fringe producer told me. "She was for so long in the shadow of Craig. There are two ways of dealing with that: you either leave, or you stay and you say, 'Stuff that'. She stayed and people really admired her for it. She worked her way up very slowly and now she has success in her own right."

Overnight she has become visible, ironically in a film in which we do not see her, only hear her voice. She plays Mac in the hugely successful animation Chicken Run, a film that will provide her calling card to Hollywood, should she decide to make that jump. But she has her doubts. "I've seen with my brother what fame brings. I know I have an ego the size of a planet and live my life stuck up my own arse, but here I'm surrounded by people who say pish to all that. And the point is that I do this stuff because it's what I love doing.

"I suppose that fame part of my ego is served by doing things like Chicken Run, which loads of people see but where I don't have any responsibility. I can walk away if it doesn't work. Nick Parks worked on it for four years - I just show up, show off for a few hours and go home."

Although she does the occasional stand-up, Ferguson no longer feels comfortable with it. "I felt that I was never effective enough, almost that I should apologise for doing 20 minutes of pish when I wanted to say something important."

Unlike many comics, Ferguson hasn't rushed to do TV sitcom. She has been offered the chance to transfer Millport, but has so far refused. "I think it needs another series on radio before I would think about taking it to TV. I want it to be at the right time."

When she first met her boyfriend, Ferguson told him she was a dentist because she didn't know whether to call herself a writer or an actor. What about performer? "Oh nooo," she says, laughing. "Years ago, when I was part of a double act, we did a gig at Galashiels and died on our arses. The cab driver asked what we did and we said performers; he thought that meant lap dancers. It didn't help that I left my bra in his cab."

So what is she? "Right now I'm talking to you; later I'll be acting; and tonight I'll be a drunk. I'm a big Scottish bird who's getting away with murder."

'Kindling': Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh (0131 226 2151), today and tomorrow; 'Millport' will be on Radio 4 in November

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