The Fringe, the booze and the Scots chicken

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

Share

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

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Emily Thornberry  

Left-leaning patriots unite! Let's get straight about Ukip

Katy Guest
Gary Catona has worked with a number of high profile singers including Stevie Wonder, pictured  

High pitch: In search of the next Whitney

Simmy Richman
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin