Q&A: Jack Docherty – Nothing But

Jack Docherty, the BAFTA award-winning star of Scot Squad and Absolutely, brings his critically acclaimed play Nothing But – which lit up the 2021 Edinburgh Fringe – to the Eastgate on 17 March. As Jack reveals, the play marks a change of direction from his usual character comedy creations

With Nothing But, you’ve moved away from pure character comedy to something a little more serious. Why the change of direction?

I’m always looking for the next challenge; something I haven’t done before and a comedy with serious bits fits the bill. It doesn’t mean I’m leaving behind the character comedy. I’m just mixing it up.

Is this an experimentation that we can expect more of from you?

Definitely. I was so pleased it worked well at the Edinburgh Fringe – probably the best reviewed show I’ve ever done and the audiences really connected with it. I loved the feeling when the audience fell quiet in the serious bits. I felt like a proper actor!

Why do you think the performance resonated so well with audiences?

It just seemed to touch a nerve. At heart it’s a rom-com, a ‘what might have been’ story and we all have a ‘what if’ in our lives, some relationship that didn’t work out. And then it becomes more a story about a father/daughter relationship, and all of us has family. So, it’s a pretty universal tale.

You’ve described Nothing But as semi-autobiographical. How much of a challenge was it to write material that is more clearly about you rather than a fictional character?

Half the fun of the show is imagining the audience thinking ‘this can’t be true, can it?’ And I never let on what’s true and what’s not. I mined my past but fictionalised it. Put it this way, I’m playing ‘me’.

Something more introspective feels like it might have been a lockdown project – was that the case, or did the material pre-date the pandemic?

It actually did pre-date the pandemic. I was originally going to do it in 2020. I was out in Australia visiting my brother-in-law, writing in his little boathouse, when the pandemic hit. I managed to get the last flight out of Sydney, otherwise I might be there to this day playing Chief Commissioner Bruce Miekelson of the Unified Australian Police Force. But I wrote it in lockdown and it did influence the nostalgic tone of the piece I think. We all believe in better days that have come before.

Any glimpses of Scot Squad’s Chief Commissioner Miekelson in this performance, or has he been consigned to a jail cell somewhere?

For this one, yes, he’s back in his office tirelessly working on the nation’s safety and security. But he’ll be back. I’ve played him live at the Edinburgh Fringe but never toured as the Chief, but I imagine I will in the future. And if I do, I’ll be sure to head to the Eastgate again.

You’ve had a lifelong love affair with the Fringe and the city of Edinburgh. What is it about both that mean so much to you?

Well, it’s my home town and even though I moved away when I was 20, it formed me. There’s a bit in the show about ‘every street corner in your home town is peopled with all your previous selves’. The memories and events of your youth are the most powerful you have, I think. And the festival? Well without it I would never have ended up writing and performing. It was on my doorstep and proved to be the gateway to a lifetime of messing about and having a laugh … sorry, I mean working hard in show business.

What kind of comedy do you enjoy watching yourself?

When younger, I was drawn to surreal and daft and joke-led comedy, like Python, Steve Martin, early Woody Allen, Vic and Bob and Mighty Boosh, but as I’ve got older I’m gravitating towards comedy/drama – shows like Girls, Fleabag, Feel Good, Transparent. The holy grail is to combine laugh-out-loud comedy while also tugging at the heartstrings.

And what kind leaves you cold?

All comedy is done with good intentions – make people laugh and give them a good time. I never criticise anyone for attempting that. It’s a noble goal. I know how hard it is. Sure, like everyone, there’s stuff that leaves me cold, but I would never say ‘oh, that isn’t funny’. It’s just not for me. We all have different funny bones.

We can’t wait to have you with us here in Peebles. What do you hope audiences take away with them from the show?

I just hope you enjoy it, have a good time, laugh and if I can move you just a little bit, then that’s a bonus! I can’t wait for you to see it.

Further info

Jack Docherty appears at the Eastgate Theatre in Nothing But, 7.30pm, Thurs 17 March. Tickets £15, £13, available from Box Office on 01721 725777, or online.