Hugh Neill has been heavily involved in Nelson’s theatre scene since the mid-1970s but he is preparing for his final shows. Photo: Andrew Board.

Hugh’s final fling

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When Hugh Neill moved to Nelson in 1974 he didn’t know a soul. So, when he saw an advert seeking actors for a local play he decided it would be a great way to meet some new people.

But it wasn’t just new friends Hugh found, his passion for acting started with that advert and has lasted four decades and seen him perform in hundreds of shows.

Now Hugh is preparing for his final shows, the first of which will be at the Mudcastle this Friday and Saturday night. He then has a show at the Playhouse in March and a performance at the Theatre Royal in May.

“I’m just getting on a bit,” he says. “I’m drawing the pension now so it’s up to younger people to pick it up. It takes more energy than people appreciate. They think you just front up and perform, but there is quite a bit of preparation and it’s just getting harder. Some of them are quite physical.”

Over the years Hugh has performed his interactive shows to thousands of people. He draws on scenes from Blackadder, Fawtly Towers and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

He says for his final fling he will be doing a “potpourri of entertainment”.

“We’ll start with a murder-mystery and then it will morph into Fawtly Towers, then Blackadder and finish off with the Rocky Horror. Usually I would just do one of those, so it will be quite different.”

Hugh has been doing the interactive shows since 1990 and had his busiest year in 2007 when he did 80 shows. “I love it but it’s very audience dependant. If you have a good audience, it’s fantastic. I’ve had a few horrors but most have been tremendous.”

The worst show he’s done was at the Rutherford Hotel for a conference of 200 people, of which only four were female. He says mid-way through his show the rugby started and the room emptied. “That was rather frustrating and heart-breaking,” he jokes.

The best, he says, was at the Playhouse where he was told by the owner to leave one woman alone because she’d had a tough time lately. “So I just kept an eye on her and I could see her gradually relaxing as the evening went on, and by the end I had her up on stage. We were dancing together. She revealed to me that she had had breast cancer, had a breast removed and had been through chemo and this was the first night where she felt she could come out. She said it was the best therapy that she could have asked for.”

Over the years Hugh has worked with eight different actors who played Basil Faulty and almost as many who played Sybil Fawlty.

He says saying goodbye to the shows will be sad, but he’s loved entertaining people all over the country and acting had became a total passion.

“When I first arrived in Nelson in 1974 I didn’t know anybody and I just happened to see this ad saying ‘actors wanted’ for this play at the Theatre Royal, and I thought this would be a good way to meet people. Being a guy you’re almost guaranteed a role and I just loved it.”

Although the passion for theatre remains and will mean Hugh will still be in the audience at most of the locals shows, he says age is catching up on him. “The trouble with theatre is as you get older it’s a damned sight harder to learn the lines. When I was in my 30s I thought I was bulletproof, I could learn a whole script in two weeks, now it’s two months and then you still don’t have the same confidence.”

For tickets to Hugh’s show this weekend email [email protected] or call 543 2113.