From roulette to Russian

Sean Gallagher  in Afterplay at the Crucible Studio, Feb 6 to March 1, 2014
Sean Gallagher in Afterplay at the Crucible Studio, Feb 6 to March 1, 2014

Sean Gallagher is one of the few non-Irish actors around the Crucible at the moment as Sheffield Theatres stage a season devoted to playwright Brian Friel.

But he is second generation Irish and besides is playing a Russian in Afterplay, which imagines a meeting between two characters from Chekhov.

“On the first day of rehearsals we read Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters to look at the back story, “ he says. “I have seen both plays several times. I play the brother of the Three Sisters so I have to get a sense of that and then make a big leap 20 years to what has happened in those years.”

Only gradually does that emerge in the course of Afterplay as the two characters, Sonya (played by Niamh Cusack) and Andrey confess their disappointments in life, especially Andrey who is prone to telling lies or what he calls “trivial falsehoods or little fictions”.

Gallagher has an Irish father and Scottish mother who met in Luton in the fifties where “there’s a massive Irish community,” says the man who came to acting late.

He followed his brothers into the building trade and later worked in a casino as a croupier. He says that experience put him off gambling for life, although deciding to become an actor at the age of 24 might seem a bit of a gamble. “I just thought I would give it a go and I knew I still had my licence as a croupier.”

Not that he has needed to fall back on that - and in any case the industry has changed radically in the intervening years - and he has carved out a career as what he calls “a jobbing actor” in theatre and in TV including Coronation Street, Leaving and recently a guest role in Silent Witness.

“Unfortunately, people know me most from Corrie,” he says. “I went into it simply because I needed money, I was scared I was losing my flat. I took the job and it bailed me out and after seven months I went to the producers and said can you write me out and it took them three months to do that.

“It was under a year but the stigma sticks,” he laments. “It was seven years ago and yet my mum and dad sent me a cutting about Silent Witness the other day and it mentioned me as ‘formerly Paul Connor of Coronation Street’.”

Last year he appeared in Our Girl, a one-off drama which the BBC have re-commissioned as a five-part series. “Lacey Turner played a girl who joined the army, and I was her father who’s not happy about her joining up.

“He’s a West Ham supporter,” says Gallagher, whose allegiances lie with Luton Town. “All you saw at the end of the drama was her going off to Afghanistan and now you will follow her time there and also the withdrawal because it will be shown next year at the time of the British withdrawal.” He will start filming in the East End of London and Elstree studios soon after the end of the run of Afterlife on March 1.