Talking Theatre: Ewan Wardrop Discusses One-Man Show, Formby

Andy Howells chats to Ewan Wardrop who brings his one-man show Formby to Newport Riverfront next week.

Following successful tours in 2012 and 2013, Ewan Wardrop’s smash hit show Formby is currently playing a final 25 date venue national tour which takes in Newport Riverfront next week.

The show which is written by Ewan and co-devised and directed by Co-Artistic Director of Salida Productions Ed Hughes is the Theatre Company’s biggest tour to date.

“I’ve been very pleased with its success, in fact it’s been my career highlight,” says Ewan, who’s acting and dancing credits include Swan Lake, Nutcracker and Matthew Bourne’s Olivier Award winning Play without Words.

Formby charts George Formby’s rise from awkward stable boy to one of the 20th century’s biggest stars of stage and screen. In a one-man performance Ewan Wardrop plays the role of Formby, as well as other the key characters involved in the performers life.

“It covers his whole life,” says Ewan, “it’s told in a theatrical modern way. I play the characters quite physically, as it’s a one man show; I’m playing George, his wife Beryl, his mam, his dad (George Formby Sr) and Arthur Askey who opens the show as a warmup man.”

“Beryl was a clog dancer, so I dance as Beryl and play ukulele as George all at the same time. There’s a section which lasts for ten minutes at the end of act one where I don’t stop singing and dancing as I’m playing both of them.”

The production features many of George Formby’s classic hits recreated by Ewan on the ukulele, including Blackpool Rock, Leaning on a Lamppost, When I’m Cleaning Windows, TT Races and Mr Wu.

Ewan learned to play the ukulele after acquiring one from a junk shop 15 years ago. It was while on tour in the production of Enron that co-star and Formby director Ed Hughes overheard Ewan playing the instrument in his dressing room and suggested Ewan should consider putting a show together about George Formby.

“It’s a big subject to cover really and I was aware of how fond people still are of him,” says Ewan.

I wondered if recreating George Formby’s distinct sound had proven a challenge for Ewan?

“I’ve certainly had to up my game,” he says, “I give a reasonable account of the songs. With Formby, when you look back at what he did he was extremely fast, there are people now who probably play faster than him, but he’s got a touch no-one has ever quite matched.”

Although George Formby died in 1961 his appeal has endured.

“He’s one of those iconic type of characters,” says Ewan of George’s continuing appeal, “He’s a perfect blend of several things. His character especially during the war was the perfect happy go lucky character to get behind, he was a bit of a clown as well which is why children like him. The songs are still fun as well, when you play them to a younger audience; they are almost surprised that they are laughing at these old extremely innocent lyrics.”

  • See Formby at Newport Riverfront on May 23.