Wounded at Tumbledown. hooked on heroin. now ! suffering from AIDS. Frank Gilchrist is the hero of a new plav soon to open in Edinburgh. Mark Fishertalk’s to the man who got back up again about the three major I’m/ting Back ('p steam. .lust mad . ‘ ‘ ‘ . . ‘ ‘ H ‘ titles. I was thinking what a load of “such 0t thL dLL‘ldL'
bollocks. w hy don‘t they call it Just l-‘ran/t '.’ And somebody says. “Yeah. right. l see what you mean:justncss and frankness . . .\'o. I don't mean that at all!‘
I’rank is I-‘rank ( iilchrist. I lc is just I-‘rank. .ltlst a I'lalkland's yeteran. .lust an ex-junkic. Just an ex-conyict. .lust an AIDS patient. And now just the subject of a new play soon to be made into a motion picture.
It's not a track record that eyery‘ lad from l’ilton can boast sey‘eral years be fore reaching thirty. but I-‘rank has ' made a speciality ofit. ‘lt’s all about : :uljusting to things.‘ he says oycr a lunchtime pint between rehearsals. ‘thn I went to prison I thought I I l I
wasn't going to handle it. but I did.‘ g Director Is'im Dambaek chips into ‘ the com crsation blurring the line between tact the man sitting next to
‘We were sitting round the table one j day and all these artistic people were coming out with some really crazy titles. the (jar ll'lto Fall Down But (in! l 'l’ :lllt/ I’t'll Down And (in!
l him and fiction- the character in the play. ‘lt's about a yery optimistic man.‘ he says. who despite haying a i yery hellish life still picks himself up. brushes himselfdow n and starts all l oy‘er again.‘
Frank Gilchrist with Paul Morrow. who plays Frank in the play
I’rank is not about to disagree. but for him it is really no big deal. When you hay e been through a life like his. it takes more than becoming the subject of a play to surprise you. ‘My life has been quite unreal.‘ he comments casually. ‘l'he project came about after a I-‘estiyal chat in a j l.cith pub with Philip I ledley. a l director at the 'l‘heatre Royal. Stratford liast and a friend of l‘rank‘s brother. Initially shocked by l-‘rank's story. lledley nonetheless spotted its dramatic potential and suggested that writer Vince I-‘oxhall ' should come and talk to him. 'l‘he result of these cony‘crsations was Just Fran/t . staged last year at Stratford I'.ast and now substantially re-w t‘itten for a smaller cast for its Scottish Llcbtll. I
‘I joined the army to get away from I’ilton.‘ frank explains. ‘l'd been in l the army two years before the war startcd.‘ And while those of Us at home were either being w hipped up ' by l-‘leet Street's .-\rgie-luishing patriotic hysteria or being forced into moral dilemmas about pacifism. ‘ Hank and many teenagers like him ; were hall way round the world on the I l’alklantl‘s front-line with a quite ' different set of priorities. 'll Wits kind of exciting and scarey at the same time.‘ he says. 'but I don‘t think
you‘re cyer prepared for war.‘ Seyen years later those experiences still
rcyerberate. ‘lt's not as if I'm 1 moaning.’ he says. ‘but you don't know what it's like until you‘yc seen someone‘s leg blown off and splattered in blood. How can you put l
i>no'r(x3RAiins BY sr
Director Kim Dambaek and Frank Gilchrist
to go up the Mound and go shopping in Marks and Spencers.‘ Recoy'ering in military hospital. the introduction of pain-killing morphine gave him an
Illttl It] the theatre."
But being wounded at 'I'umbledow n and seeing friends killed and injured w as only the start I of his problems. ‘I don't beliey'e you I can go out somew here and kill
comfort of a Stockbridge pub. I-‘rank
is unequiyocal. ‘lt's the head-fucked
cure for the head-fucked head.’ 'I‘aking solace in new-found
people and hay e your frichs killed and come back and jump on a 27 bus
ante rm 2 lSlunc m ‘
escape route from these unfamiliar pressures. Looking back from the
friendships with old boys who had fought on the Somme doubtless gaye
.Ittst Frank opens at The 'l‘rai'r'rs'c'
him some perspective — ‘.\Iy friends became a bit ancient. but at least they knew what it was like' -» but the well-trodden path towards drug-dependency had already begun. I’olitely dismissed from the army. I’rank [timed to l.i\‘et‘pool where a life of heroin and yagrancy ey‘entually led to arrest and an lS-montli prison sentence. "l‘hey put you in a ccll.‘ he continues. ‘and you lime to go cold turkey. I knew I was fucking myself up. It was almost like a phase. I’d got my head round the I’alklands and l didn’t need it.‘
'I’hc story could haye ended there. but the smack had left another legacy. A few months after being imprisoned. I’rank was diagnosed lll\' positiye. He draws a parallel with the isolation he felt being labelled a I'ialklands‘ soldier. It is not simply a case oftolerating down-market newspaper stories along the lines of Itching/It against crack (mops in the l'tl/k/(llltl.\. Int! I/IfV is one/nttt/t'ltt' wont win . . . I’rank also had to cope both with rejection by his friends and confrontation by compete strangers. But resilience is second nature to him and he is not one to stay down for long. ‘.\Iy attitude to gay men has changed.
The first time I went to a Bot/y Pusfltl't’ meeting. I was in the minority. I was the only straight person. So I thought. how must they feel surrounded in the world'.’ Now most of my friends are gay.’
Despite professing no interest in
politics. I’rank is strong-minded about the image of AIDS patients. I le is no ci‘usader. but seeing l.arry Kramer‘s early play about New York A IDS sufferers. 'l'ltc Normal Heart. made him particularly keen to show the illness in another light. ‘I thought it was disgttsting.‘ he says. ‘x\ll it showed was people lying in bed or moaning about it. It doesn‘t haye to be like that.‘ lfanything. I’rank has had the opposite problem. ‘l'ye been approached by people in AIDS Agencies who say I'm giying the wrong image- that I shouldn't go otit r and drink 15 pints. But I’m not i speaking up for anything. I'm not an 1‘ adyert for AIDS or the British Army.‘ I Ie is. after all. just l’rank. i
In the 'l‘rayerse production it is this j
attitude that Kim Dambaek is aiming e to put across. “I‘m trying to capture I’rank’s spirit which is positiye and one that likes a laugh.‘ he explains. “lihere are parts of the play.' adds I‘rank with typical directness ’when people think he's a bastard. but there‘s a bastard in eyerybody.‘ Not that you‘d know it when he talks romantically about his forthcoming .llt'lls A” Boon-style marriage in August to a staff nurse who once treated him in hospital. llut Frank's optimism. his life—force. his sell-confidence. stem from the lessonsol his remarkable life. 'l'm lucky that I experienced all that.‘ says l-‘rank. ‘ I feel that I know what it‘s all about more than somebody who has got a job in a factory and works from nine to fiy'e and drinks in the local pub for the rest of his life.‘
'Iiltcatre. [it/tn/ntrg/ifrom Sat III/(me and runs until Sat Ila/y.