From next week he will be performing at the Everyman, in its very last production of new writing before its closure. Dead Heavy Fantastic is the new play from writer Robert Farquar. A comedy about a wild night out in Liverpool, Stocks plays main character Frank, heading out for a blind date unaware of the events that are about to unfold. The play itself has been in development for several years, and after undergoing a complete re-write was unveiled at last year’s Everyword writing festival at the theatre. It opens tomorrow (Friday, March 11) and runs until April 2.
And for Stocks, it’s a return to the theatre that gave him his professional break. He started out as a member of the Playhouse Youth Theatre, joining after encouragement from his school drama teacher. “Living in Norris Green, it was so different, just a completely new world, and I used to live for it,” he said.
From there, he auditioned for RADA, and with first time luck (“I wouldn’t have had the money to go back,” he laughs) secured himself a place. Immediately after graduating, fate returned him to Liverpool for a full season at the Everyman under artistic director John Doyle, taking in everything from Greek tragedy to panto.
He said: “To get the opportunity to do that – and straight out of drama school – to play everything from a Trojan woman to Simple Simon, it was just a great start. The Everyman is very important to me, it’s where I started my career and it’s nice to get back before the old building is taken down. It feels a bit like going full circle, and it is one of the reasons I had to be in this play. I’m sure the rest of the cast feel the same.”
Over the years, work included several productions with the RSC, and more Shakespeare at the Belfast Lyric; and a plethora of TV credits on the likes of Casualty, Wire in the Blood, Doctors, Soldier Soldier, Robin Hood and The Day Today.
Family circumstances prompted the move back to Liverpool, and since then he’s rarely been off the boards of his old alma mater of the Playhouse (Flint Street Nativity, Tartuffe), and the Royal Court (practically every other production, including Ladies Night, Slappers and Slapheads, and Dirty Dusting).
“I love working around here. I’d lived in London since I was 18 and it’s very nice to work from home. I love staying busy and don’t deal with waiting for the phone to ring very well, but there’s a lot going on in Liverpool and the North West and it’s nice to be part of it,” he said.
In many cases, he says, writers and directors just prefer to work with people they know and trust, and this proved especially true when choosing to revive Father O’Flaherty as the main character in last year’s show, Scouse Pacific.
Stocks said: “Getting a really good gang in, people like Stephen Fletcher and Drew Schofield, you can’t help but have a laugh and it’s almost like working with a safety net, you know you can’t go far wrong. That good casting gives you that security.
“Since then it’s bizarre, people do stop me and say ‘bless me, Father’ when they’re getting off the bus, and things like that. Everyone knows a priest a bit like that I suppose, like all three Father Ted characters rolled into one. I usually tend to get recognised in the supermarket, with booze in my basket. People must think that’s how I am in real life!”
The cast of Dead Heavy Fantastic is completed, much in the same way, by many other familiar faces. Former Everyman Youth Theatre member Con O’Neill, who won an Olivier Award in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers in the West End, is joined by Stephen Fletcher, Helen Carter and Jess Schofield among others.
Inspired by Liverpool’s Friday night crowd, the play uncovers the sights, sounds and characters to be encountered on a wild night out. With no interval, the audience members intentionally have no respite from the “rollercoaster ride” of Frank’s adventure. We’ll have a review up next week – for more information, visit the Everyman’s website.