BWW Interview: Carly Bawden talks ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at Bristol Old Vic
Emma Rice's Wise Children are back, bringing her acclaimed production Romantics Anonymous to the Bristol Old Vic for a limited run. Carly Bawden, who plays Angélique in the show, talks chocolatiers, suffragettes, and her passion for new writing...
Romantics Anonymous has been away for a couple of years - how have you found getting back into the show after its absence?
I'm so happy doing it again. When we got to the end of the run at the Wanamaker I didn't feel anywhere near ready to let it go, and I was always really hopeful that it was going to have another life somewhere else and that we'd continue. So I'm so happy that we're doing this two years later, it's really exciting!
Has it changed much since its original run?
There's some new musical material in there, there are some structural changes - only slight ones though. I didn't think it could get any better, to be honest, but everything that's been suggested just takes it up a gear, it's brilliant. But also there's three of us from the original cast and the rest are new to the Romantics crew, so of course with that it's injected this fresh take on everything. You sort of feed off each other, so it's naturally going to be different every time you approach it, and it's really satisfying for us actors to keep changing it up and finding something new.
It must be interesting to jump back into this after your most recent show, Ghost Quartet?
I always thrive on getting to do such different things, and Ghost Quartet was so cool. Just being part of such a small cast - one of four - and us being so reliant on each other and driving the whole thing together. Being responsible for the music and the action... It was so interesting. And to be in a brand new theatre as well; I think it's so stunning, the whole building.
Also since Romantics you were involved in the Suffragette musical Sylvia - how was that experience?
It was so thrilling to be in such an amazing show like that, celebrating the anniversary of women's suffrage and getting the right to vote. It was really cool as well because I didn't really know the half of what went on; it was such a great opportunity to dig deep into what was going on, and everything that the Pankhurst family went through. Learning about Clementine Churchill was pretty exciting. She doesn't get enough airtime, in my view, so I was really excited to go and play her in a really brilliant new show that was highlighting what she did for the movement. I'd not worked at the Old Vic before, so I had a blast.
It ended up as a full-blown musical, but wasn't it initially going to be more of a dance-based piece?
I think that's what people thought, maybe they just assumed because Kate Prince is a choreographic master! But she's also a master at many other things, and I think it became this huge thing and it was a real honour to be a part of it. I think it's coming back, I think they're working on it still.
Would you be interested in doing it again if it did come back?
Oh, of course! If it came my way I'd be honoured. Even if I'm not a part of it I'll be so excited to go and see it again, and see how it's grown. I'm really encouraged that it's coming back, because I think it just needs to be seen, it needs to be out there - so many people are going to love it that haven't seen it already.
Especially as there weren't any other major theatre-based celebrations during the anniversary year.
That's true, theatrically. I would totally have been up for more! That was really cool as well because in the lead-up to rehearsals of the show a bunch of us from the cast performed at the Women's March. We also went to the unveiling of the Millicent Fawcett statue in Parliament Square, and we sang there as well. So it became much bigger than the show - it became more about celebrating the anniversary, which was really thrilling to be a part of.
You've worked with Emma Rice on a few projects now - which would you say is your favourite so far?
I had a feeling you'd ask me that! The Umbrellas of Cherbourg will always have a really special place in my heart because it's a magic show, and also because it was my first show working with Emma, but I have to say that Romantics Anonymous is my favourite, hands down.
It's definitely one of my favourites, too - it was a great show to round off her time at the Globe, as it brought a new audience to her work.
And, similarly, people who hadn't necessarily been to the Globe before either. Especially in the Wanamaker; it's such a beautiful space and the show it was perfect for that space, I believe.
What do you enjoy most about working with her?
There's so much about her... I just think she's a magical woman, really. The environment she creates in rehearsals is just so unique in terms of putting you at ease and welcoming any idea - however crazy it is - and if you veer off the rails she will very kindly put you back on the right path! But you always feel brave enough to just go for it and try things out.
Especially with Romantics - it deals with a lot of sensitive subjects, but it never makes it heavy or pretentious. She creates this great environment where there's always this playfulness, this joyfulness with a nice sort of fizzy focus - and just enough silliness that you just can't take yourself too seriously, which I think is key.
It must be nice to have that kind of freedom?
It's so liberating and I know that for me as an actor I can really sort of get in my head a bit sometimes. She sets this perfect vibe in which you can just let an idea go and try something else. It always stays in a really good state: a perfect creative state.
I always feel that this comes across from the audience's perspective, as it feels more natural.
Yes, it always feels open to possibility and stays fizzy. It just means as well that you're always paying attention to each other and listening, then you can go anywhere rather than getting bogged down in what you're doing. She's magic!
Do you relate to your character, Angélique, in any way?
I do, actually. I'm definitely not as good at making chocolate as she is, I wish I had that skill - although that would be pretty dangerous, I think! Her main thing is that she is very shy and she struggles with being in big group situations; it's not very convenient for being an actor, I have to say, but I definitely have a similar struggle in big groups sometimes. It comes and goes, but I tend to be much better at smaller group hangouts or one-on-ones than I do in big groups. So in that respect I definitely know where Angélique's coming from! I'm quite a sensitive person, I think, and Angélique is the same, so we have a couple of similarities in there.
What is your favourite part of the show?
That's really difficult! My first song at the opening of the show I get to make some chocolate onstage and I really enjoy that. When we were at the Wanamaker, we had the chance to go to a chocolatier's shop - Paul A. Young in Soho - and we got to go and have a workshop with him and his staff. We got to see the proper process of making chocolate and we've sort of integrated parts of that into the show. So I get to do that at the beginning, and I really enjoy that.
Probably mine and Jean-René's first date scene, just because it's an absolute disaster - we've all been there! Honestly, with this cast they're all so hilarious, it's going to be a task just to rein in the laughing.
Is there anything that you find particularly challenging?
Other than trying not to laugh... What we end up doing at the end. It's something that I have to do in a very tight wedding dress, and there's always an element of danger as to whether that's going to rip or not - also taking a big enough breath to be able to sing and bouncing around. I don't want to ruin that for anyone that's going to come and see it, I'll leave that as a surprise!
Are you looking forward to taking the show to America in a few weeks' time?
The chance to have an adventure with this beautiful show is such a privilege; I'm really excited to see how the Americans respond to it, and to see what the differences are in styles of humour or what they might resonate with more with than us Brits. All three places that we're going to (LA, Washington and South Carolina) I've never been to before. In between LA and Washington we get a week off, so I think we're planning on having a little bit of an adventure in between there. The opportunity to travel and with work is quite a rare, exciting thing, so I'm really looking forward to that.
I think a lot of people are hoping that the show might come back here again, as this is another short run...
Me too! That would be an absolute dream. I'm always happy to be a part of this show. I think it's such a unique, special, joyful piece that I would just love for as many people to see it as possible. Especially in such trying and uncertain times, just to have an injection of joy is what we all need, I think.
Do you have a dream role in a pre-existing show, or someone that you'd love to portray?
I know this sounds really sucky-uppy of me, but I think I have to say this role right now, Angélique, is a dream role. I can't believe how lucky I am to get to be a part of this, and in that role.
But I'm always more excited about what doesn't exist yet, and what comes up that's new. We have such incredible writers out there that are just coming through now - I'm really, really excited at what's to come, rather than what's been. I think it's really important to support new writing. Revisiting wonderful classics is also really exciting, but my heart is in the present at the moment and what's about that's fresh and coming through now.
Picture credit: Steve Tanner