If ever proof were needed that the In Conversation With events staged by Little Atom in the glorious setting of the Small Concert Room of Saint George’s Hall, Liverpool, were not only a refreshing mix of interview, music and song, then the eighth “Conversation” held with 39 year old actor Stephen Graham is surely that proof.
From first to last, this was an evening that underlined not only what a consummate actor the Kirby-born star is – as roles in The Accused and the recent BBC drama Good Cop and filmssuch as Pirates of the Caribbean alongside Jonny Depp and Gangs of New York with Cameron Diaz and Leonardo Di Caprio, will rightly lay testimony to – but also that the man and the parts in which he is largely cast are so far removed as to be night and day.
Then of course there is the featured music, all of which is supplied by Liverpool talent, especially arranged for the evening and immaculately performed. Candie Payne wrung every emotion possible from Patsy Cline’s Crazy and Sense of Sound’s exquisitely delicate yet nonetheless emotive performance of Chaka and Rufus Khan’s Ain’t Nobody was truly, truly stunning. Ben Helm’s arrangement of Bill Withers’ Grandma’s Hands was sublime. The Science of the Lamps took Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here to new and even more haunting heights. Liam Bailey tore the script up of Al Green’s Simply Beautiful then tore down the house with the sheer power of his delivery.
That such talent –musical, theatrical, artistic and otherwise should all hail from one small Northern city by a river seems almost sinful, but in an incandescently joyous kind of way.
This said however, it is the guest himself that truly shines, thanks in no small part to being asked some deeply searching questions about his life by the superb host that is Mike Neary who again turned in a faultless performance. Indeed, so good was he several people during the interval remarked how well this “Desert Island Discs” format of live Q & A would be a welcome addition to the TV schedules beleaguered with tosh.
Thanks to Neary’s skilled research and laid back manner, the anecdotes became showstoppers in their own right and none more so than his memories of playing the vicious, racist thug Combo in the seminal film This Is England, directed by Shane Meadows in 2006, and how difficult the role was for him to come to terms with, given his own difficulties with racism being himself of mixed race. Added to this is the story of how Martin Scorsese phoned Graham at home and asked whether he might be free to play Al Capone in “a little show I’ve got lined up called Boardwalk Empire”.
Stephen said he was free and that was it. Three weeks later he was on set, filming what is set to become TV’s answer to Once Upon A Time In America and if that doesn’t exacerbate the man’s talent – that Scorsese has him on speed dial – then nothing will.
A possible return to the Liverpool stage in the not too distant future and a definite return to the character of Combo in This Is England 90 were two further titbits that escaped, as were video messages from of Jonny Depp and Shane Meadows, creator of This Is England, who wished they could be hear but were otherwise committed; a line which usually means the opposite yet here felt oh so genuine and heartfelt.
The In Conversation series is growing into a thing of legendary status, which is born not so much from the guests – who thus far have included the likes of Janice Long, Paul McGann and David Morrissey – but laos of the complete package of entertainment that is provided.
The In Conversation With Stephen Graham certainly lived up to expectation and it is with great anticipation that the next subject of In Conversation With series is announced.