Actor Barry Sloane on why he’s excited to give Boys From The Blackstuff to a new generation
3 weeks ago
Boys From The Blackstuff opens at Liverpool’s Royal Court from 15 September 2023.
Actor Barry Sloane was only one year old when Alan Bleasdale’s ground-breaking TV series Boys From The Blackstuff was first screened in 1981.
But when he finally watched it years later as a teenager, the powerful story of six men’s desperation in the face unemployment and social inequality left a lasting impression.
“My dad got me onto it, he was born in ’57 so it was his generation, and my grandfather’s. When I first saw the show in 1998/99 it was a piece that stuck with me, and I always advised tons of other people to watch.”
Having carved out a successful career on screen and stage, here in the UK and in the US, Barry – who first came to fans’ attention as villainous Niall Rafferty in Hollyoaks – is now temporarily back in Liverpool.
And he’ll be taking on one of the most iconic characters from Blackstuff in a new production opening at the Royal Court this month.
Forty years after the series aired on BBC, James Graham, writer of the hit BBC series Sherwood, has created a new adaptation, working alongside Bleasdale to retell the original.
Barry is playing Yosser Hughes and says it’s an opportunity he’s relishing.
“For an actor it’s an absolute dream role, Yosser is just so brilliant. It’s a tough role, you have to really throw everything you’ve got into it, but they’re the roles I’ve always been intrigued by – complex characters with a bit of unstableness to them I suppose. I love trying to humanise and understand them.
“I think the reason why Yosser resonates so much with people is because he’s unstoppable. You can put the weight of the world on this man’s shoulders, and he’ll continue dragging you along with him, and he’ll speak out. He’s the voice that we all have inside that sometimes we wish we used more. He’ll call people out and use voice to power.
“But I think what’s really interesting about him as a character in such an anti-establishment play is he’s probably, of all the boys, the one who bought into Thatcherism most – he believed what he was sold: if you get a job and earn your money and do as your told, you’ll be looked after, and he wasn’t.”
Barry was in a play last year in the West End when one of the actors saw in a trade magazine that they were doing Boys From The Blackstuff.
“He said to me, ‘you’d be a great Yosser Hughes’. So I sent an email that night to my agent saying I’d really be interested, and they set up a meeting with Alan Bleasdale, James Graham and the director Kate Wasserberg. We ran through a couple of scenes, I went in with a muzzy, and really just went for it and produced something I think they were quite excited by. That was at the end last year, but they’ve been workshopping for nearly three years and really cast it brilliantly.
“It’s been great having Alan be a part of it as well because he knows these characters so if you get his blessing, you know you’re doing something right.”
Barry’s career took off in America after a play he was in, Jerusalem, became a huge West End and Broadway hit.
He now divides his time between the two countries. His son Lennon, who’s seven, was born in Santa Monica and his 13-year-old daughter Gracie has lived in LA since she was three. She’s in Liverpool with him for the run of Boys From The Blackstuff.
“It’s been nice being back because she’s spending time in Liverpool with her grandparents and she’s loving it,” he says.
Actor Bernard Hughes became a household name for his performance of Yosser on screen, making ‘gizza job’ known by millions.
It’s a tough act to follow, but it’s a challenge Barry’s definitely up for.
“His performance is captured on film for all time and will be watched and lauded, quite rightly, because it deserves it. What I’m doing is producing a performance of Yosser night after night in a very different medium.
“While there’s a nod to it, and we’ve gone with how the characters looked in the show, everyone’s bringing their own energy to the role. You use it as a reference point, but every artist is different and every interpretation of a line or an emotion is going to be different.
“It’s an all-Scouse cast which fills my heart with so much pride. We’re excited to give this to a new generation and if some young kids come and see us and think, that’s what I want to do with my life, that the arts is a possibility, that would mean more to me than anything.”
- Boys From The Blackstuff is at the Royal Court from September 15-October 28. You can book your tickets HERE.