This week, I sat down with Genevieve Hulme- Beaman and Kerrie O’Sullivan, two young actresses starring in The Gate Theatre’s production of Pride and Prejudice, 200 years after Austen’s masterwork was first published. We talked about the enduring qualities of Austen’s great novel, what writer James Maxwell and director Alan Stanford have brought to their stage adaptation, and the tricky business of not tripping over in period- style garb
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. Why, after countless stage adaptations, TV adaptations and film adaptations is the material still fresh for new audiences?
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman (Lydia): I think it’s the characters: there’s someone everyone can relate to in Pride and Prejudice, whether it’s Mrs. Bennet, one of the sisters…the sisters are all so different from one another.
Kerrie O’Sullivan (Kitty): It’s such a classic love story, too: boy meets girl, they don’t get on, time elapses, and, finally, they fall in love. It’s just a beautiful story. I remember Alan Stanford telling me that Pride and Prejudice is in the top five list of books that people read every year.
What has director Alan Stanford done to keep it fresh and vibrant?
Kerrie O’Sullivan: James Maxwell wrote the script and he and Alan adapted the script together. It moves really, really fast. It’s really Lizzy’s story, which of course it is in the novel, too, but in the show Lizzy narrates as time is passing and the narration really does add to the flow of the show.
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman: And he’s really aware of the rhythm of it; the rhythm of the comedy and the moving scenes. So I think that using that and being aware of it works and keeps it alive.
The balance between comedy and drama is very even in this production.
Kerrie O’Sullivan: I think it is, definitely, which is what I think Alan Stanford is great at doing. If there’s a tense, dramatic scene, Genevieve and I will often burst in to change the mood.
Your characters in particular, Lydia and Kitty, are two sides of the same coin. How do you both find time, as actors, to move away from the ensemble nature of the production to bond and work solely together?
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman: You try and make it happen, as much as possible, in rehearsal. It’s true that there are scenes that are busy and tense and demand that the two of us burst in, add a little color and ten burst off again, so it was quite easy to develop that.
Kerrie O’Sullivan: We’re constantly together, too: we’re joined to the hip.
Is Pride and Prejudice, as a play, a screenplay, a production that every actress aspires to perform in?
Kerrie O’Sullivan: It is, in the sense that it has five great roles for women. I don’t know that it was ever an ambition of mine; I just found out it was on, the script and the director were great and I think that’s what excited me most. Anyone can be part of Pride and Prejudice, but you want to be part of a great production.
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman: The character I play, Lydia, for me, is the character I was particularly excited about when I first auditioned to be part of Pride and Prejudice. I would love to be in Pride and Prejudice in years to come; like play Mrs. Bennett when I’m older! It’s a possibility, when you think about it, so for us, at this time in our lives, it’s exciting to be part of this production.
Kerrie O’Sullivan: And it’s great to be part of such a classic production, too. Bruce Schwenghl has done such an amazing job with the costumes.
Would you have seen other productions, or would you have constantly stayed away from other productions for fear that they might inform your choices?
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman: Well I’d seen the BBC production, before even the auditions came up. So I had very specific memories of all the characters. I wouldn’t be opposed to watching it again, though I wouldn’t be taking notes for myself, because it’s much more fun to start from scratch and create the character from nothing but the script. What I liked about the BBC production is the fun: they really keep the fun nature of Pride Prejudice going throughout and I would hope that we’re doing the same with this production, too.
What is like doing this play, in Ireland, in 2013, when attitudes to sex, marriage and relationships have, in the last 20 years, at least, become more liberal? Does Kitty’s “scandal” seem tame in the current culture?
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman: Well I think that Lydia’s “scandal” in Pride and Prejudice is of the time, so it is very hard to compare. Certainly, people nowadays hear stories, everyday, about a “cousin who ran off with another guy” or some such story and it doesn’t really seem to be a big deal. I think Lydia is probably the character who most people relate to in the current age, because she’s just doing what she wants to do, which is what young people are like these days. So it’s probably a much bigger jump to play someone like Jane, who is much more composed; that character doesn’t exist as much in our society, though there are plenty of Lydia’s running about the place!
Kerrie O’Sullivan: She is very much of the time.
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman: She is, and I think that Lydia is a romantic and naïve. She goes for the wrong guy, but apart from that, she doesn’t mean any harm. She’s having fun, but it’s naïve fun, because she doesn’t know what she’s getting herself in for.
Genevieve, you also performed in She Stoops to Conquer. Where there choices that you brought from that production to Pride and Prejudice?
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman: I think so. In both She Stoops to Conquer and Pride and Prejudice, you have are characters in search of fun and mischief and that provides great action and entertainment for all of us, I hope.
Kerrie, you also starred in Frank McGuinness’ The Factory Girls, another play that has five great roles for women. How did coming to Pride and Prejudice from The Factory benefit your performance and did you make similar character choices?
Kerrie O’Sullivan: I played Rosemary in The Factory Girls, who was quite a submissive character who watches everything; she’s an observer. She is the character who, at the end of the play, stands up on her own two feet and is young enough to make a change and believe that she can do whatever she wants. So with Genevieve’s character, Lydia, I think there is definitely a link; that sense of independence. With my character, Kitty, there’s definitely a link in the physicality and the presence of both characters: Rosemary in The Factory Girls and Kitty in Pride and Prejudice are both watchers. Kitty shadows Lydia for much of Pride and Prejudice and when Lydia leaves Kitty behind, Kitty has to stand on her own two feet. In Factory Girls, Rosemary is influenced by the older ladies in the factory and listens to their conversations and, by the end, she’s the one who, again, stands on her own two feet. I’m not sure Kitty gets to where she needs to by the play’s end: I think her journey of discovery and maturity is just beginning.
Where do you see Kitty ten years on from when we leave her?
Kerrie O’Sullivan: What with Lizzy making such a good marriage, I think that Lizzy’s marriage throws Kitty in the way of a good marriage and that she marries a nice gentleman. Yesterday, in rehearsals, it was hinted that I should marry Fitzwilliam, because he loves to dance, to be lively, so marrying someone; not becoming a schoolteacher or a spinster.
Do you think the pressures for women in Pride in Prejudice are identical to the pressures that face women, today?
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman: I think so, in some respects, but also the advancement of women in society has brought pressures with it, too. Certainly, there is more pressure on women to provide, have a career, marry, have a family, look good in terms of appearance…they’re all there. The challenges are different to the challenges that characters in Pride and Prejudice face. There’s a lot expected from women today, I think.
Kerrie O’Sullivan: The pressures on women, today, are changing all the time, depending on where you are, as woman, in your life. It is funny, though, to think of an 18 year old in the era of Pride and Prejudice and 18 year old in the current era. The experiences are worlds are apart. An 18 year old, now, is preoccupied with going to University, travelling to Australia. The priorities are completely different. The education was different, too. The women then were very educated, but not in the classical sense: they learned music, sewing, etiquette, how to converse…it was a different kind of education. It is easy to say that weren’t educated, but they were encouraged to be artistic and to converse and practice good social etiquette. Obviously, it doesn’t compare to the opportunities that women have, today, with education.
Whether it’s Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice, what it is it about these period productions that people keep coming back?
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman: People go to these productions, especially in the case theatre, to suspend their belief. The audience is willing to go with the story, with the characters and with the time. They come in and they hear the language, they see the costumes and they’re there. And they go with Lizzy, with the Bennetts…they become emotionally attached to Lizzy. They feel the shock and upset of the characters.
Finally, I have to ask: the costumes: how much fun has it been to waltz around in period- style clobber?
Genevieve Hulme- Beaman: It’s been great! We’ve only really tried them on, but the first thing I’ve noticed really is the detail. Again, it’s that craft of women at the time: sewing, design…they were incredible craftspeople. Every little frill has detail.
Kerrie O’Sullivan: We were also given rehearsal dresses, which was absolutely key. They change the way you move. The dresses are floor- length: I’ve fallen twice already, which I hope I don’t do onstage!
Genevieve Hulme-Beaman (Lydia Bennet)
Gate Theatre: Debut.
Other Theatre: Little Gem, (Touring nationally and to Australia); She Stoops to
Conquer, Monster /Clock, Pondling (written and performed as part of the 2013 Dublin Fringe Festival, Smock Alley Theatre); Pineapple (Lir); Heroin(e) for Breakfast (Pillowtalk Theatre Co.); Broadening (Glass Doll Productions).
Last year she directed a production of True West by Sam Shepherd in Smock Alley Theatre.
Kerrie O’Sullivan (Kitty Bennet)
Gate Theatre: A Christmas Carol.
Other Theatre: The Factory Girls (Millennium Forum, National Tour); Perve (Peacock Theatre); Skin and Blisters (TEAM); The Hostage (Wonderland Productions); By the Bog of Cats (Abbey Theatre). Her dance credits include Beckett Embodied (Smurfit Business School). Film/Television: The Tudors (Showtime); Ten Steps (SP Films); Fair City, No Tears (RTÉ).