BWW Interview: Helen George Talks MY COUSIN RACHEL
Having loved the book since she was young, Helen talks bringing this story from page to stage, and gives us a sneak peek into what we can expect from Call the Midwife's Christmas special!
What's your earliest memory of theatre?
I grew up in Birmingham, which has the Birmingham Royal Ballet. And I was lucky enough to go there quite a lot as a child and I used to do dance classes there.
So probably watching Romeo and Juliet at the BRB. And also seeing little Little and Large in a panto in Lichfield, I think!
Thinking back to childhood then, what was the first Daphne Du Maurier book you read?
I did Rebecca at school and then My Cousin Rachel.
You do love her in those early years. It's so romantic and the landscapes are so vast. They're just such lovely books to imagine, very beautiful and very luscious. It's the brilliant gothic mystery and a real coming of age for the main character.
So it absolutely suits those teenage years.
Can you setup the world for us a bit?
We meet this young character Philip who has lost his guardian Ambrose, who is his father figure in his life. And he's set to inherit the estate from him.
But Ambrose went away to Italy and met Rachel, and she woos him. And upon the death of Ambrose, Philip has this series of letters from him saying Rachel cannot be trusted... and then of course, she turns up.
So it's a play about these characters getting to know one another, what Rachel's about and what she wants.
How's it been, bringing that story from page to stage?
Joseph O'Connor who's written the script has done such a good job bringing it to life.
It's a really dense book, there's so many chapters. So trying to get everything into a play and to make it work on stage is actually quite hard, but he's done it. He's managed to get about 17 chapters in one scene... which is quite a feat!
He's very lean with it. It's very rich, very ornate, but he's very good at adapting IT.
Aside from your love of Daphne Du Maurier, what else attracted you to this production?
Well it's so different from anything I've ever done before.
Rachel is a woman, which I haven't played before. (I have played girls more frequently before). She's very strong, she has English and Italian roots and she really is an early feminist.
You know, it's not Jane Austen! She's not there with a fan; she is a modern woman, living in that era. She's a hustler trying to make her way in this life, and trying to make money for herself when she wasn't able to work. And it basically meant that men owned women in those times.
She feels like a very futuristic character for that time. And the set reflects that: it's a fairly traditional set, but it has modern twists. It doesn't tie itself down to a specific decade.
Is there a particular line which you're sticks out to you at the moment?
One of Rachel's lines is, "I am a woman, dear cousin. Some servants sleep in attics with breakfast on leftovers, and others wear wedding rings with diamonds and silver plates. Wisdom is knowing there is very little difference."
And I think it's just that for that period: however strong women were you were never your own entity. You were always owned by someone, be it your father or your husband. Or worse at the time, widowed or left on the shelf... I mean, God it's dreadful.
How are rehearsals going at the moment, before your first stop on the tour?
Good, we're in the end of the second week so the panic is definitely setting in! But we've got an incredible cast. At the helm is Jack Holden playing Philip, and we have the lovely Simon Shepherd who I grew up watching on Peak Practice (my Mum loves him!)
And to start off the tour in Bath, it's such a beautiful city and theatre. And Bath at Christmas...I'm not going to lie, that was a massive draw! So I'll be doing a bit of Christmas shopping in the markets.
We can't wait for the tour. Some of the theatres are quite different, which it'll be great to adapt and perform in. Some are modern, some are older theatres. We're going to Inverness, Cambridge, Malvern, Sheffield, Chichester and Richmond. So it's very exciting!
So what can audiences expect?
I think they'll get a very thought-provoking, gothic jewel of a mystery.
Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention Call the Midwife, which returns this Christmas!
Yes, we're excited about it! We went up to the Isle of Harris to do it and filmed the Christmas special up there.
We film every six months, so six months on, six months off which is great because how lucky am I? I get to do six months for TV, then I get to do a play for the other six months and find a different character.
When you do have a gap and go onto other jobs and find other characters and other people in you, it brings something new back to the show. And that's so important when it's a long standing show like Call the Midwife, to bring a fresh view to it.
Can you reveal at all anything about the Christmas special and your character?
Well, I don't exactly know what I can say...
So I'll say this: I do some very interesting acting with a cow. That's it!
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan