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'I Left My Heart In Roker Park' - Roker Report Meets Paul Dunn

Many Sunderland fans might remember a one man stage show by the name of 'I Left My Heart In Roker Park', which made it's debut way back in 1997. The show tells the story of the life of Sunderland fanatic Kevin Halliday, and actor Paul Dunn has revived the show (with an updated story) alongside writer Tom Kelly to bring the play to a modern audience. With that in mind, @GavinSAFC sat down with Paul in order to learn more about what is to come from 'I Left My Heart In Roker Park' when it takes to the stage again this September.

Some Sunderland fans might remember the original 'I left my heart In Roker Park' show which ran in the late 90’s and in 2004, which received high praise from the media and fans alike. The latest edition of the play has added to the original story – what can the audience expect from this year’s show?

The writer, Tom Kelly, has brought it right up to date, so now it covers things like the Di Canio period and the Cup Final against Man City.

In order to be able to do that we've also changed the setting of the whole play. It's not set in 1997 outside Roker Park anymore - we've moved it to the present day, and Kevin is in the back garden of his home, on the site of the former Roker Park ground.

How much input did you have in helping Tom Kelly to write the updated version of the play?

When we first sat down together a couple of months ago I read the play aloud and we talked about the character Kevin and what we thought we wanted to do with the play. I made one or two suggestions, but really it's still very much Tom's script. He's done all the work – I just turn up and say the words!

What kind of reaction have you had to the show from Sunderland fans who might perhaps hold the same fond memories of Roker Park that your character, Kevin Halliday, does?

When the play was produced before (in 2004 directed by my great friend Chris Elphinstone) I was living in London, so although I knew about the play I really had no idea how popular and successful it was. Since we've brought it back this year things have gone a bit crazy.

The fans have been so supportive and seem really excited about it coming back. I've had loads of people tell me about their memories of the play and also of being at Roker Park. When we were filming an interview at the Customs House for the trailer, one guy who was there told us of his first memory of being at Roker Park - the crowd was so packed that at one point the bloke in front of him jumped up which pushed his own wooden rattle into his own face and he lost his front teeth! It was also the same match that Brian Clough got his injury which ended his playing career.

Tell us about how you came to take up the role of Kevin……

Tom Kelly had seen me in a play at the Customs House last summer. I was playing the central character, which meant I had to carry the story of the whole piece and stay on stage right from the start. Tom had been thinking about reviving 'Roker Park', and after he'd seen me in this play he felt that I'd be right to take on the role of Kevin Halliday.

We had a meeting early this year and decided to go ahead and mount the play once more.

You’re the third person to take up the role of Kevin – have you spoken to Ray Spencer or David Whittaker about the play? What advice did they give you with regards to playing the lead character?

Funnily enough, Tom and I had that meeting in The Customs House, which Ray Spencer manages. Just as we were finishing our meeting Ray came in, so he was the first to hear the news that we were reviving the play! He seemed pleased that it was coming back, and said how great the play was. But, other than that, we've not really talked to Ray or David about it. Tom is keen that we find our own 'Kevin', and not just create a copy of what has gone before.

How easy did you find becoming Kevin? Is he the type of person that you feel you can easily relate to?

It's hard work in that it's just me on stage, on my own, for 90 minutes.

Relating to Kevin is very easy for me and, I think, will be for the audience too. That's the strength of Tom's writing; the play is not just about Kevin's football fanaticism, it's about how his passion for his club intertwines with his life, his loves, his experiences as he grows older. There'll be things throughout the play that most people will be able to relate to, not just football fans.

Tell us a bit about yourself as a Sunderland supporter. How did you come about supporting the lads?

Well, when you're born and bred in Sunderland there's no other way than to support the lads! It was my dad who took me to my first game – November 1984, I'd only just turned ten, and we were playing Man U.

We beat them 3-2. I remember I was at the back of the Fulwell End, standing precariously on the ledge of a fence so I could see above the heads of the others! All these thousands of people shouting, singing, the camaraderie... I'd never seen or felt anything like it, it was amazing. It was an exciting match – the sendings off, Clive Walker got a hat-trick (two from penalties) – but strangely the thing I really remember from watching that match was Gordon Strachan's ginger hair!

I moved away to go to drama school in the 90s so didn't get to as many matches as I would have liked, but one of my most memorable moments is watching the play-off final against Charlton in 1998. I was watching it on the big screen in a pub in Maidenhead where everybody – except for me, my mate and his girlfriend – were supporting Charlton. We sat proudly in our red and white stripes and cheered and punched the air with our fists and yelled at the screen as the thrilling match played out. Obviously, at the end of the match I was gutted. I actually sat with my head in my hands for a bit. Fair play to the rest of the people in the pub though, they left me alone. In fact, one of them brought me a drink over and said how good the match had been!

What do you think Kevin would have made of our pre-season thus far?

The thing about Kevin is he's been supporting the lads for years, so he's come to expect that there'll be amazing highs and horrible lows. We've had some results in the pre-season friendlies, which is always good to see. He's become pretty philosophical about the whole thing, so he'd probably remain his ever-optomistic self, take his usual seat in the SOL, and just see what happens!

Where can people come to watch the show?

The shows have been booking incredibly well at all three venues – we've actually had to add extra dates as some nights have sold out. So I'd say if you're planning to come to the show, get in quick to avoid disappointment.

Keep an eye on our website or twitter @CrankedAnvil as we may add even more dates if there's a demand!

But, for now, here are the details:

19th & 20th September 2014:

7.30pm & 2.30pm (19th only) The Customs House, South Shields £9 / £7 conc / £6 friends Box Office: 0191 454 1234.

25th September 7.30pm:

Washington Arts Centre, Biddick Lane £8.50 / £6 conc Box Office: 0191 219 3455.

26th, 27th & 28th September 7.30pm: T

The Gala, Durham £12 / £10 conc / £9 friends Box Office: 03000 266600.

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