ACTORS simply turn up, say the lines, and bask in the applause – don’t they?

Certainly not Tom McGovern. When he left drama college in the 80s (he picked up the RSAMD’s Gold Medal) the actor could have headed for Dundee Rep with a view to basking in the appreciation of his considerable talent.

Off stage he could have been focused on squeezing the life out the Jute town.

“Well I did a bit of that,” he says grinning.

But the actor who grew up in Glasgow’s Toryglen set himself apart from his contemporaries; he studied his new home.

And he learned of a history which more than three decades on has provided him with the chance to star in a new theatre production, written by one of Scotland’s top writers.

McGovern is starring at Glasgow’s Oran Mor this week in Signalman, the story of the fateful night on December 28, 1879 when the Tay Bridge collapsed and around 100 lives were lost.

The actor explains how he came to land the role. “I was captivated, obsessed in fact, by the story of the train disaster.” Yet, he admits his interest wasn’t based on autodidactic cultural enlightenment. “No, I saw this story had dramatic potential. I felt there was a play in this tale. It’s selfish, but as an actor you are always looking for a play to put yourself into. And I always want to play roles far removed from myself.”

McGovern dug deep into life of signalman Thomas Barclay, the points man, who had to make sure the track was clear en route to Dundee.

However, the story stayed in the back of his head until an early 90s in conversation with playwright Peter Arnold. McGovern mentioned his idea of reminding the world about the bridge disaster. He even had a format, based on a book he’d read, The Bridge Of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder.

Now, you’d imagine that the end to McGovern’s story sees Peter Arnott pitch the tale to a theatre company, who love it, and a year down the line McGovern is cast in his own train story.

Not quite. “Peter called me up and said ‘Dundee want to do the play.’ But before I could get excited he added, ‘The bad news is they don’t want you in it.’ He explained they had their own ensemble company they had to use.”

The Tay Bridge play is now running in Dundee. However, Arnott hadn’t forgotten McGovern’s input. He came up with another spin on the story. “Pete called me up and said he had written The Signalman as a monologue, especially for me.

Yet, Tom McGovern is a long way from a 24 year-old signalman? “Where we join this play is 1919 and the signalman is now 64. It reflects on his life and he flashes back to the disaster, the night of this storm from hell. He looks at the political decisions made at the time.

“He relives that experience in his head.

“He tries to work out what happened.”

Tom McGovern’s knack of coming up with possible play concepts doesn’t stop with The Signalman. In the next few weeks he’ll be back at Oran Mor in Marco Pantani: The Pirate, the story of the world famous Italian cyclist who died alone in a squalid drug-ridden hotel room in Rimini. “I’d been into cycling in a big way and I’d read a biography of Marco and it just grabbed me,” he recalls. “And so I suggested the idea to writer-

director Stuart Hepburn.”

He adds; “The play ran a few years back but I was too old to play Marco and too young to play the grandfather.” He laughs: “But now the play has been revived and sadly, I’m now old enough to be the grandad.”

McGovern has another idea, which he’s looking to develop. “It’s the way forward,” he says. “You get fed up waiting for the phone to ring, to the point I’ve even thought of getting on my bike and becoming a Deliveroo rider.” He reflects: “When you are young (and playing Hamlet) you think the success will last forever. But it can dry up – and fear descends.” “But then you find yourself in two plays in succession. The trick is to stay hopeful – and come up with ideas.”

l The Signalman, Oran Mor, until Saturday.