Genevieve Hulme-Beamen returns to Smock Alley this week with the hugely successful Pondling after her ‘Best Female Performer’ win at last year’s Fringe Festival. A story of love, beauty, chicken-chasing, daisy chains, cat killing, French singing, dress-wearing, ensuite bathrooms and a day at the pond, Pondling was one of last year’s standout shows. MEG sat down with Genevieve to chat about writing, acting and being an all-rounder.
So, Genevieve, tell us where your passion for writing came from?
I did the Gaiety Acting Programme for two years and we were always encouraged to make up characters and improvise. I had shied away from writing previously as I considered it a job you are not allowed to do if you are dyslexic but my confidence grew during that time. The director Paul Meade, who I worked with on Little Gem, was a real help to me in that regard. I also completed the ‘Play-On’ programme as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. That was great in terms of learning how to structure a play and Graham Whybrow, the course leader, was a big support as I went through the writing process. I first performed Pondling in the Collaborations Festival as a twenty minute piece. By the time it got to the Fringe I had been working on it for almost a year.
How did you come up with the character of Madeleine?
I am quite against anything too girly. I wanted her to be dark, tough. The idea of her seeing femininity as a kind of mask interested me. She is a really bold, outrageous and unhinged character, obsessive by her very nature. She wants to be the ideal woman, the perfect lady, but the truth is much different.
What influenced you when you were writing?
Surprisingly, poetry influenced me a lot. I loved the idea of Madeleine listening to her grandfather reading poetry and it seeping into her subconscious. Sylvia Plath was an influence; not only for ideas but also in the way I constructed the sentences. I was assistant-director on the Gate production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the time of writing and the character of Blanche resonated strongly. Madeleine and Blanche are cut from the same cloth: both fragile victims of their own terrible imaginations. In terms of Irish writing, I enjoy dark humour so the theatre of Enda Walsh and Martin McDonagh. Slippy Helen in The Cripple of Inishmaan was another influence; I guess I appreciate formidable female characters. Visually, the imagery of Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy had a sizeable impact on Pondling.
You work across the three disciplines: acting, writing and directing. Do you think they all inform each other?
Definitely. I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t an actor. You learn something from every different experience. For example, directing True West taught me about well-formed plays and the importance of structure. It’s good to have variety in this career. Recently, I was in the Gate’s Christmas show Pride and Prejudice. I played Lydia, the most badass of the sisters, but still worlds removed from Madeleine. I think there’s a whole new generation of theatremakers in Ireland who are not allowing themselves to be strictly defined as ‘one thing’ and that’s really inspiring. There’s a different community emerging.
Is being part of a community of young theatremakers important?
Of course. It’s crucial to support and learn from each other. I recently did a workshop with Dan Colley from Collapsing Horse and they are a really exciting, innovative company, working on a small budget. Also the writers I met on Play On, like Erica Murray and Louise Melinn, who have great ideas and are not afraid to take risks. Irish theatre is very challenging but when you see people being brave it makes you that little bit braver too.
Bravery, occasionally, is rewarded. How did it feel winning ‘Best Female Performer’ at the Fringe?
It was so cool! I am not going to lie and say I didn’t care how it was received because I was really nervous. When you get into the theatre, that’s it: your writing is finished. It’s the audiences’ now. To know so many people responded to Pondling in such a positive way was an amazing feeling.
Pondling runs from 31 March to 08 April in The Boys School in Smock Alley. It comes highly recommended from MEG.ie.