With novelist Edna O’Brien present at the call-back audition, Genevieve Hulme-Beaman decided she had to give it some welly as Baba.
She did – and she got the part in the stage adaptation of The Country Girls which plays Chichester’s Minerva Theatre from June 9-July 8.
In the 1950s in rural Ireland, Kate and Baba are best friends who long to escape their traditional families and convent school. When they finally rebel and make a break for it, their lives burst open.
As they forge new identities in Dublin, the childhood friends must discover if it is possible to grow up without growing apart.
“I had read the book years and years ago,” says Genevieve. “I am from Dublin originally, and I knew the book and was a massive fan of Edna’s. I went through the usual audition process, and I was absolutely gushing when I met Edna.
“She was lovely. She was very warm in the audition room, and I thought at the auditions ‘This might be the only time I get to play Baba in front of Edna, so I had better give it some welly!’ I really enjoyed meeting her.
“Baba as a character is an absolute force of nature. She completely changes the energy in the room when she comes into a room. She is a force to be reckoned with. She looks after herself first, but she absolutely loves Kate. From reading the book, there is very much a slightly-co-dependent relationship between them. Kate is such a gentle character that she needs someone tougher around her to keep things going, and Baba is very practical.
“Edna gave a lovely description on our first day in rehearsals. She said that Kate has no skin, which I thought was a beautiful description of a young woman who is raw and completely honest and vulnerable, and then she said Baba has a good skin. I understood that Baba has a tougher skin, that she knows how to deal with the outside world. But Baba adores Kate. She loves Kate and sees her for all her potential.”
The fact that Genevieve herself is Irish feels very important: “We are about half and half Irish and non-Irish, but there is a lovely sense that everybody is interested in finding out about these Irish characters. That’s very important. Edna’s writing is so atmospheric.
“Edna said to me the name of the person that Baba is inspired by, and that surname is the same name as my mother’s maiden name. My mother’s family would have come from the west of Ireland where this is set, so for me it feels like it is really close…”
Genevieve’s previous theatre work includes The Seagull at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre and The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe, plays Baba. Theatre includes The Seagull (Gaiety Theatre), They Called Her Vivaldi (Theatre Lovett), The Taming of the Shrew (Shakespeare’s Globe), You Never Can Tell (Abbey Theatre), Pride and Prejudice (Gate Theatre), Pondling (one-woman show. Edinburgh Festival and 59E59 New York.
The full company is: Romayne Andrews, Rachel Atkins, Tom Canton, Chris Garner, Colm Gormley, Genevieve Hulme-Beaman (as Baba), Melanie McHugh, Keshini Misha, Grace Molony (as Kate), Bailey Patrick, Valery Schatz (as Mr Gentleman) and Jade Yourell.
Edna O’Brien’s novels also include The Lonely Girl, Girls in Their Married Bliss and The Little Red Chairs; non-fiction includes her memoir Country Girl.
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