Rediscovering the home town I lost touch with

Liam J. Stratton (second right) in a lead role at the Joburg Theatre in South Africas version of Monty Pythons Spamalot. (S)
Liam J. Stratton (second right) in a lead role at the Joburg Theatre in South Africas version of Monty Pythons Spamalot. (S)

From growing up in Barnoldswick to working in South Africa and being back in Barlick again, Liam J. Stratton tells the story of working with the original Lara Croft, being shot by Samuel L. Jackson and accidentally getting a job as the head writer on the South African equivalent of Emmerdale in a whirlwind five years in the southern hemisphere.

Snow. I’d never have thought it’d be the thing connecting where I was from to where I’d been.

Liam. J. Stratton at South Africa Fashion Week. (S)

Liam. J. Stratton at South Africa Fashion Week. (S)

After arriving, in Johannesburg, I was freelancing at an ad agency. It was winter. It was cold. I looked up from my screen to ask a question and I was alone. Had I asked where the toilet was too many times? Had people had enough of my accent?

No. It was snowing. First time in 15 years. Everyone pressed against the window like a Garfield in the rear window of a Ford Fiesta. Smiling. Awestruck.

The awe of my “MadMen” clicked a few weeks ago. Soft white flakes settled on grass, opposite my old school.

I knew coming back to the UK after so long wouldn’t be easy but at least I was starting with a smile.

Liam J. Stratton hosting a comedy night. (S)

Liam J. Stratton hosting a comedy night. (S)

For five years I’ve been working in South Africa as a writer, producer and sometime actor.

The wife’s native land offered opportunity to actually work in my chosen field. To get much needed experience that was constantly out of reach in mine. And I grabbed every opportunity. Both hands, and some teeth.

I love performing, my background is Sketch Comedy and Improv, but there’s always a been question mark over acting...

However, opportunities came up and were taken.

Liam J. Stratton. (S)

Liam J. Stratton. (S)

Curiosity? Perhaps...

Morbid fascination? Sure...

Being able to eat? Absolutely.

From Special Forces Soldier under Robson Greene’s command in “Strike Back” (Sky/Cinema) to being shot by Samuel L. Jackson in “Kite” (2014), it soon became apparent that masculine roles weren’t really my forte.

I’m sure if the acting was better, the following may not have happened on the set of Strike Back.

S20 (me) is guarding a terrorist.

Extremely attractive Special Forces Major (Rhona Mitra) goes against her orders to take the suspect from custody.

Major(ly Attractive) and S20 have a brief yet tense confrontation.

First, I get kitted out. The armourer is Les. Big, REALLY big, with a handle bar moustache that could take a bullet. I have no doubt that he’s killed people, probably with an array of methods. He sees me and his moustache vibrates with “you’re kidding,” when I’m taken to him to get my gun. No Les, we’re really not.

Les straps a big M7 Caseless Sub Machine Gun around me. He can barely contain his amusement/bemusement. He tightens the strap fully around my stick thin frame and it still doesn’t fit!

He slaps me on the back with a slightly ironic “Good to go!” and I’m taken on set.

In comes Major(ly Attractive). Clearly an “ac-TOR” but looks like she could strip my gun down in five seconds.

She was nice. “In the zone”. But nice.

We mark the scene. Then it begins...

<ACTION>

MAJOR APPROACHES S20.

MAJOR: Step aside soldier.

ME: Sorry maam, I can’t...

<DIRECTOR SHOUTS CUT ... LOUDLY>

“Who is this guy?” he shouts, “He’s SO pale! Do something.”

I am whisked to the make-up girl who applies bronzer with vigour.

<TAKE 2>

MAJOR APPROACHES S20.

MAJOR: Step aside soldier.

ME: Sorry maam, I can’t...

<DIRECTOR SHOUTS CUT ... LOUDLY>

“Give him another coat!”

Dragged to make-up where the girl(s) apply more bronzer with so much energy, I felt like I was being sand-blasted.

Scene done, Major(ly Attractive) tells me I’m “great” and glides off. Urgh.

Being a regular on a soap, “Generations” (SABC) and doing comedy nights, I fared better.

And then I was cast as a lead in South Africa’s version of Monty Python’s Spamalot (Joburg Theatre). Although shredding both Achilles tendons during rehearsals, it was nothing short of amazing.

But writing is my passion. So, becoming head writer on one of the South African equivalent of “Emmerdale” was huge, if unexpected.

I thought I was interviewing for a writing job, but 10 minutes in, I was asked how I would lead all story/creative on the show.

Before the head said “sink” the heart had started to swim. I answered with enough blag, ahem, eloquence to get the job.

There was a tsunami of opportunity for the odd yet ambitious Englishman. It wasn’t just work, it was character building.

And now I’m back. Fully aware that my experience overseas won’t guarantee me a job but could be the edge lacking before.

Dazed and confused, I’m rediscovering the town I tell everyone about yet lost touch with. Reconnecting with the place I thought I would outgrow but was always a perfect fit. Realising that it’s not just somewhere I lived, it’s my home.