George Costigan was adamant when he became a patron of Square Chapel he wasn’t going to rest on his laurels, writes Tim Worsnop.
“Most of the patrons I have known have had photos on the wall and that’s it. I thought I have to do something practical,” said the actor currently starring in the smash hit TV drama Happy Valley which has just started its second series.
So teaming up with fellow Square Chapel patron Tim Piggot-Smith (he’s just finished a stint on Broadway in the acclaimed King Charles III), someone with whom he shared his first television role, the pair came up with a wonderful idea - to entertain an audience and at the same time raise funds for the theatre.
The upshot is an evening of prose, plays and song, an anthology of writers - with the very cool title An Evening with G&T.
It’s a first for George, though Tim has been involved in a similar project at Square Chapel before when he hosted an An Evening of Mozart.
So is there a danger two old pals will go off-script?
“I’m hoping there won’t be any ad libbing and it all goes smoothly. It might be chaos and we might forget the running order - we’re only human. But I think we’ll get away with it,” he jokes.
Joining in the fun is a third patron, Sally Wainwright, the feted Calderdale-born creator of Happy Valley who has penned a short play for the pair.
“I phoned Sally to ask if she would write a play for us fully expecting her to say she was too busy. But she didn’t and it’s great,” he said.
“Sally is such a good storyteller. The first time I clocked her work was At Home With the Braithwaites and somehow I couldn’t help but watch it.
“Happy Valley is such a success because it’s true to life. And the character played by James Norton is just compelling. You can’t take your eyes off him,” he said.
By his own admission George came into acting by chance. Brought up and educated in Greater Manchester, he drifted through a number of jobs before a pal cajoled him into joining an amateur acting group.
He caught the bug, went to study at Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre and then joined the influential Everyman theatre in Liverpool. It was a city that would shape his life.
“I met Jules (his stage director wife) in Liverpool, our children were born there and most of the best work of my life was in Liverpool,” said George who also began a love affair with Everton football club who he watches play whenever work permits.
He achieved fame in 1987 in the gritty, near-the-knuckle movie Rita, Sue and Bob Too playing a businessman having an affair with his two teenaged babsitters.
His CV reveals a career highlighted by diversity. His willingness to move between genres means he’s rarely without work for long.
Credits include movie blockbusters Calendar Girls and Shirley Valentine, top drawer television like The Unforgiven, Line of Duty, See No Evil, cult series Doctor Who and of course, Happy Valley and even soap opera Emmerdale (he relented at the second time of asking).
In 2010 he worked on the movie Hereafter, directed by Clint Eastwood.
“He’s an extraordinary guy. There were around 80 people on set in Shepherd’s Bush Town Hall and if you had shown a photograph and said someone here is more famous, more powerful and richer than anyone else who is it? I swear you would not have picked Clint.
“He was very quiet, unpretentious and self-effacing with a unique way of working. He would say a couple of things and then wander off. We were all waiting for ‘action’ and he would just say okay?
“Apparently when he was acting, he would be thinking out a scene and someone would shout ‘action’. He apparently decided there and then when he started directing he would never do that.”
His stage career covers a myriad of productions, a list too long to mention.
In 2014 however a real highlight was a collaboration with his son Niall at York Theatre Royal in A Number.
“I like watching him work. As a parent it’s very exciting and thrilling,” he said.
Did he encourage him to follow the same career knowing the potential pitfalls?
“You just have to support your children. I never discouraged him. I told him here are the rules. You can’t join the army or the priesthood.”
An Evening with G&T also includes some songs which George will perform.
“Tim’s ducked out of that.”
So are there any limits to his talents and is he likely to be slowing down any time soon? Well perhaps not. He’s working on a screen play, writing some children’s stories and preparing for his night at Square Chapel.
“I’m in a really good place . I’m having a marvelous time.”
Regrets? “Only that Everton cannot defend properly!”