Most of us have unremarkable first memories. Dropping an ice cream at the seaside, say, or playing peekaboo with mum.
Not Niall Costigan.
“I was three. One of my earliest memories is running out of the theatre because dad got shot at the end of Blood Brothers.
“And I thought he was dead. I actually thought he was dead. My mother could not convince me until he turned up.
“The shock is, I then wanted to become an actor.”
Of course George Costigan wasn’t dead, as any TV viewer, moviegoer or theatre fan will know.
George is a familiar face on stage and screen. Perhaps his most well-loved role was that of Bob in Rita, Sue And Bob Too, the cracking 1987 movie set in Bradford.
He was Eddie in Calendar Girls, Charlie Haynes in Emmerdale and always lifts a TV crime drama, whether as Sgt Howard Raveley in ITV’s army mini series Homefront or as the tough boss Nevison Gallagher in current BBC One hit Happy Valley.
Having recovered from watching his father murdered on stage, George joined his dad for a few scenes in Rita, Sue And Bob Too, aged seven.
What does he remember from that experience?
“Very little really. I remember the hotel being quite cool. I remember doing two scenes, one where I was sat in a car, one where we ran out.”
“It was nice. You go and see dad working.”
But they had never worked together in the theatre, until now.
The father and son actors are playing father and son – and clones – in Caryl Churchill’s thought-provoking drama A Number.
George plays a father whose attempt to raise his son goes so disastrously wrong that he comes up with a radical solution.
He places the son in care but only after arranging for a clone of his son to be created, who he brings up as his own.
Niall plays both the biological son and two of his clones. The play begins when the father learns his son has been cloned multiple times – and knows the full story.
“It’s about a whole host of different emotions and what you go through when you find out you’re not who you think you are,” says Niall.
“They all look exactly the same, but they’re very different personalities, because of the way they’ve been brought up.
“The challenge is a great one. Any actor my age would be thrilled to get this part. It’s a real push, a real challenge ”
George didn’t draw on his own experience fathering Niall for A Number – he says there are few similarities between the two of them and the characters they play. So the benefits of being related are peripheral.
“When you come to see the show, pretty much unconsciously you’ll go – ‘They make the same gestures? Are they planning that?’ No. We’ll just take that as an advantage.”
‘I was a kleptomaniac’
The pair had very different routes to the stage. George’s dad ran the buses in Salford and theatre didn’t play much of a role in family life.
“There was a lot of church – and church is a famous breeding ground from some actors. Lots of cossies, and extra special cossies on Easter Day, and I did love to sing in the choir.”
As a young man, George recalled, “I was nowhere. I was a kleptomaniac – that was my adrenaline rush, I was really quick-fisted and I could nick things.”
Then a friend pretty much press-ganged him into taking a role in an amateur theatre production.
“We came to the first night and I was so scared. I go out there, and people laughed, and clapped at the end.
“I stood there on stage, a big light bulb over my head, going ‘Oh, this is what I’m supposed to do’.”
What was it like having a dad for an actor?
“You’d see him on TV and other people would see him on TV as well,” Niall said.
“So you always knew it was something different. I don’t think I ever met any other friends’ dads who liked doing their job as much as my dad did.”
Born in Liverpool, he was brought up in France and did a drama course in Aurillac, which has the biggest street theatre festival in Europe.
Did it bother George that his son was following him into such an insecure profession? “There were a couple of rules in the house,” he said.
“You can’t become a soldier without getting a load of grief from your mother – and I’m not going to argue with her. And if you could stay away from the Catholic priesthood, that would be fine too. The rest of it’s up to you.”
The family firm
How have they found working together on A Number?
“It’s just another actor, but an actor you know really well,” Niall said. “It’s great to finally work with my dad because I only ever see the finished products in the theatre.
“In something that’s so intense it’s very nice to have someone you know so well, because if there’s something wrong we can very quickly sort that out.”
George agrees. “I’m fascinated to watch him work because I’ve never watched him work.”
Niall’s observation that his dad loved his job is undeniably true – and never more so than when he worked on Rita, Sue And Bob Too.
“The sneaky coup to that film is, apart from me and Lesley [Sharp], and the two girls who at that age were only just out of a youth theatre in Oldham, every other person on the screen is a stand up comedian.
“That’s why the film has an atmosphere that no other film has got. All of them, Hosepipe Harry, Fat Mavis, the whole lot.”
Considering the intensity of A Number, how do George and Niall let go after each performance?
“There’s a lot of cracking football on at the moment,” Niall said. “I’m a Liverpool fan, he’s an Evertonian.”
Will it bother George if Liverpool come back and win the Premiership?
“I don’t give a monkey’s. They play great football, they deserve to win the league.
“I’m much more entertained by the collapse of Manchester United. That’s absolutely gleeful, especially as they took our manager.”
- A Number continues at York Theatre Royal Studio until May 24
- For more details see the theatre website
- Read all our theatre stories here