USUALLY when you see the partnership of Andy Gray and Grant Stott on stage, it is a sign that Christmas is coming.
Gray, one of Scotland’s most familiar actors both from the stage and television series like City Lights and Naked Video, and Forth One DJ Stott are well established fixtures of the panto at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre, but this summer saw them take to the stage out of season with new comedy Kiss Me Honey, Honey at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Not only a sell out hit with the public, the show also found favour with critics, winning a Fringe First Award to compliment the four and five star reviews.
The satisfaction for Gray and Stott is all the sweeter because Kiss Me Honey, Honey — the story of two men of a certain age getting back in the dating game and drawn together by a shared love of the songs of Shirley Bassey — was created with them in mind.
The pair had been looking for a project to do outside the panto season and approached Karen Koren of Edinburgh’s Gilded Balloon and Inverness’s Happyness Comedy Festival for help, she put them in contact with Philip Meeks, whose one-woman play Murder, Marple and Me was a previous Fringe hit and has toured to Eden Court.
The brief was a show for two guys and both Gray and Stott quickly fell in love his idea.
Critics at Edinburgh drew reference with The Odd Couple, which Gray has also appeared in.
Though he understands the comparison, Gray points out that this play, because it is written about two middle aged men in 2013 Scotland, is also quite different.
"It’s about two men, one of whom is divorced, and there’s the double talk so there are similarities with Neil Simon’s classic work, but we have pushed this slightly further because this is a modern play," he said.
"Also we play all the women in their lives — so that’s a bit different.
"But I take it as a complete complement to be compared to The Odd Couple because it’s one of the best plays ever written."
Like the best of Neil Simon, the comedy in Kiss Me Honey, Honey is also balanced with some deeper elements.
"People who bought the tickets have maybe expected to see a different side of us from what they see in panto," Stott said.
"There are the laughs, of course, but we are really pleased with how we have been able to surprise the audience with how sad it gets and how poignant it gets."
The tour includes additional scenes, expanding it from its Fringe running time, and one of these is a textbook example of that, Stott adds, going from a really funny chaotic moment to leaving the audience in stunned silence in the space of three or four lines.
"It’s great writing by Philip — and great acting by Andy Gray," Gray added, prompting roars of laughter from his co-star.
"When we took it from the Fringe, we wanted to focus on the things that worked, things like that where we can provide the comedy and the pathos as well, so there are lots of little things that we’ve added."
For Gray and Stott, appearing in their own play marks the culmination of a long held ambition.
"I really wanted to do this, but I just needed to pluck up the courage because I’ve never done a play before and Andy has always said he would be willing to do it with me. To have that show of faith, it was just too tempting not to do it," Stott said.
"So I spend years and years working away as an actor, he joins me and after a week, we get an award," Gray interjected.
"No, what was great about it was that it was born out of friendship. I joke about him as a new actor, but really he’s one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with."
However, a play like this is a completely different beast from appearing in panto, Stott added.
"The way I look at it, the last 20 years of appearing in panto has been my apprenticeship," he said.
"I’ve learned a huge amount. It’s been a life-changing experience for me. At the age of 46 to make my acting debut has been fantastic. It’s what I wanted to do when I left school.
"But I’ve no plans to hang up my headphones though."
One thing that binds the two characters in the play is their shared love of the songs of Shirley Bassey. Has Stott been slipping a few of Dame Shirley’s hits into the day job playlist?
"It would no longer be a day job if I started playing Shirley Bassey, I can assure you!" he laughed.
"But just having done the show, I’ve fallen in love with a lot of her tracks."
• Kiss Me Honey, Honey is at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, at 8.30pm on Wednesday 2nd and Thursday 3rd October and the MacPhail Centre, Ullapool, on Thursday 24th October.