JOHN Kielty may find himself feeling slightly strange to be appearing in A Christmas Carol at the Citizens Theatre this year.

The Cumbernauld-born actor starred in another production of the classic Dickens tale last year in Edinburgh. Deja vu, John?

"Not totally," he says, grinning. "I was Bob Cratchit last year and I'm the Ghost of Christmas Present this year.

"But it's great because I read the story every year and I watch it on TV every year. I love it. And that's not that odd because there are American theatres which produce A Christmas Carol every year. They don't do panto, but this show funds their shows for the rest of the year.

"It's just such a fantastic story."

Who could argue with that. It's a classic tale of self-discovery, of realisation life is so much more about giving than taking. There's an Ebenezer Scrooge in all of that has to be revealed.

"That's it," he says. "It's a really spiritual story."

John Kielty is one of Scotland's best actors, evidenced by his performance (and the praise he received) two months ago when he played Irish revolutionary Michael Collins in Ian Pattison's bio-play, A Terrible Beauty. It was a tour de force, performance, an intricate display of force, fear and compromise.

However, his very first theatre production in his home town offered less scope for dramatic flourish.

"I played Patch The Dog in a 1997 show, Pied Piper of Hamelin by Simon Sharkey, and I was on a student placement," he recalls, revealing a slightly naughty smile.

"I was very pushy at the time and us students were supposed to share the roles. But I went up to the director and declared 'I don't want to share the role with anyone else.' And he looked at me as if to say 'You'll go far'."

Playing Patch wasn't an easy role for the top dog actor.

"It was very hot in Patch's costume," he recalls, smiling. "And I got into trouble for upstaging one of the actors. The actor was supposed to hurt my paw, but when I limped across the stage I limped a bit too much and I got into trouble for it. This older actor was furious."

Does upstaging still happen, where actors will do anything to grab the limelight?

"It still goes on," says John, laughing. "It's just done a bit more subtley. Those of that ilk have to be a little more subversive.

"But in older days, some actors would even have the stage lights turned up twenty per cent just so's they looked a bit brighter than everyone else."

Oh, the fragile egos of the thespians. But John Keilty seems far less the type to rely upon anything but talent.

After studying at Coatbridge College, he went on to appear in a run of shows at Cumbernauld Theatre.

"Some times we did three shows in one day. And it was tough."

He moved on to work at the Lyceum Theatre, and in pantos he's played everything from princes to dwarfs to King Arthur.

However John, who is also a talented musician and writes musical scores, reveals he deviated away from acting to enter the world of pop music.

"David Sneddon, who won BBC's Fame Academy, asked me to go to London in 2002 with him to join his band. I couldn't turn it down.

"David's prize was a four album deal and an Audi TT and I got to write half the album with him.

"We had a Number One, a Number Two and then a Number 35 and David chucked it as a performer and concentrated on writing, and now he's doing really well."

John didn't really take to the pop star life.

"It wasn't for us," he says with a wry grin. "I've never played so much X-Box in my whole life. Writing the songs and being in the studio was good, but the record company wanted us to write cheesy ballads."

John and David - the pair met in youth theatre together - supported the likes of Elton John on tour.

"We had a great time," he says. "But it wasn't to last."

Does he have regrets about taking time out from what looked to be a successful acting career?

"I was just getting my foot in the acting door when I left, so it took me a while to get back in.

And when I came back had to remind people I was still around. But I don't regret going to London. I made a lot of money and I learned how to write songs."

He's also written his own success story. John is a prolific writer of theatre scores. And he has been in BBC's Outlander and played Edgar Allen Poe in a recent radio production.

In 2006, he played Aladdin at the King's, alongside Gerard Kelly.

"It was such a lovely experience and great fun, even though most of what you do is fly on a magic carpet and kiss the princess."

He adds, grinning; "When I flew in for the first time, Gerard said I looked as if I was sitting on a toilet. And he was right."

And the Christmas show dream? What's the part he really wants to play? Would he love to be a Scrooge?

"The Ghost of Christmas Present is a great role, but I really want to play Jacob Marley," he says, smiling.

"I really want to put on the rattlling chains because he's my favourite ghost."

l A Christmas Carol, Citizens Theatre, until January 3.