The first thing John Evans did when he knew he was going to appear in the Royal Court’s new show was jump in his car and drive to Wales.
Because unlike the characters of Nicky Allt’s comedy Lost in Colomendy – along with tens of thousands of real Scousers for whom it was a rite of passage, the Wirral-raised comedian had never set foot in the Welsh holiday camp.
“I wanted to go and have a look at it so I’d know what I was talking about,” he reveals. "So my wife and I drove up there and we walked half way up Moel Famau. It’s essentially just a big hill so the idea of being lost on it is just ridiculous.
“People were walking past us in plimsolls.”
20 shows to see in Liverpool during 2020
In Lost in Colomendy, four old friends – Big H, Barry, Stan and Brian – all work (or perhaps shirk is a better word) together at B&Q. But things aren’t going too well on the shop floor, and their new boss Helen decides to send this quartet of ‘middle-aged chancers’ on a team-building course to shake things up.
But will they make a mountain out of a Moel hill?
Team bonding certainly appeals to Evans, who has spent most of his three decade career in entertainment working solo as a comedian.
“I relish the team thing, I really love it,” he says of being part of a cast of actors. “And the team bonding for me is important, so I get where they’re coming from, the guys from B&Q.”
The 51-year-old plays Big H, a former member of the military who in Evans' words “takes it all really seriously, even though it’s absurd really. It’s just a big hill.
“But he’s dead serious and has got the full kit and tries to take charge.”
John Evans (right) with Mark Moraghan in One Night in Istanbul. Photo: David Munn, Alterean Media
While Evans has worked with Nicky Allt before, appearing in the playwright’s One Night in Istanbul at the then Echo Arena and later in Ireland, this is his first acting job at the Royal Court – although it’s not for want of trying on the part of both the performer and theatre.
“We could never make it work because of my commitments doing stand-up - I work outside the UK on ships a lot,” he explains. “And then in the end I was available to do this one, and I was asked...and took half a second to decide and say absolutely!
“The Royal Court has such a great reputation for comedy. I've seen lots of their productions, and every single time I’m knocked out by how fantastic the cast are. I used to walk out after seeing a show and think – yeah, I’d love to have a crack one day.
“So, this is it. And I hope it's the first of a few.”
While Evans may be a panto veteran (including the past three years at the Liverpool Empire), his experience of what might be termed ‘straight’ acting is relatively modest in comparison, although it does include credits in shows at the former Liverpool Actors’ Studio in Seel Street including Closing Time and Falling Out With the Joneses.
Comedy in the Royal Court Studio this spring
But it turns out that as a teenager acting was his first love, and he fell into comedy while trying to gain his Equity card.
He recalls: “The easiest way to get a card was to show Equity you were performing.
“I was 15 when I did my first stand-up. I used to walk round the clubs in Birkenhead – and sometimes on this side of the water as well, and literally go in and ask if I could do 10 minutes as an audition, and would they book me in the future? I used to say, just give me a contract that I can show to Equity to get my card and become an actor.
“But then stand-up took over and I never went back. And when you’re 15 you’re fearless aren’t you? You’ll work anywhere and do anything. So that was it – as simple as that.”
It’s a career which has taken him around the world, and not just on ships like Cunard’s three Queens.
Lost in Colomendy
Evans’ international gigs have included shows for Combined Services Entertainment, the official provider of entertainment to the British Armed Forces (a sort of modern day ENSA), which has seen him perform in Northern Ireland, the Falklands and the jungle of Belize.
“The warm-up was a guy with a mosquito killer!” he laughs of his time in Central America.
“We went over for a week and did two shows in a marquee with open sides. One night we performed for the squaddies. They’d had two weeks’ training in the jungle and this was their first night off – so they came out of their barracks with bags full of beer.
“I compered this show, did a bit of patter between the acts. And they were great. You certainly knew what had gone right and what had gone wrong when you did it.
“And then the next night we did it for the officers and officers’ wives. And if anything, that was the tougher night. They all had to behave.”
Three decades of playing for comedy crowds is certainly going to stand the grandfather-of-two in good stead when it comes to the atmosphere inside the Royal Court’s auditorium.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “I’m invigorated and energised about it all.”
As for the show itself?
“There’s a bit of everything in it. It’s got a bit of comedy, there’s a little bit of burgeoning romance, and it’s got nostalgia as well for all the people who did go to Colomendy.”
Lost in Colomendy is at Royal Court Liverpool until February 29. Tickets HERE