Gina Beck is currently starring as Bathsheba in a new stage adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury. Based on Thomas Hardy’s novel, the show has been adapted and directed by Jessica Swale.
Gina starred as Glinda in the West End production of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre for two years and recently reprised her performance in the musical’s first U.S. Tour.
No stranger to playing iconic roles, she has also played Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera (Her Majesty's) and Cosette in Les Misérables (Queens). She was also a soloist in the 25th Anniversary of Les Misérables at the O2 Arena and appeared in the Les Misérables film directed by Tom Hooper.
Gina’s off-West End, regional and international theatre credits include: Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (Charing Cross), Letitia Hardy in The Belle's Stratagem (Southwark Playhouse), Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music (Plenary Hall, Kuala Lumpur), Kate Hardcastle in The Kissing Dance (Jermyn Street), Wendy Darling in Peter Pan (Birmingham Rep) and Rebecca in Imagine This (Plymouth Theatre Royal).
On screen Gina has made appearances in Doctors, The Return of Sherlock Holmes and The Crust and has performed on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, The Royal Variety Performance and The Classical Brit Awards (ITV).
I recently caught up with Gina about why she’s loving her latest stage role, life in Newbury and who she would invite to a stagey dinner party plus much more…
Had you read Thomas Hardy’s novel before this part came up?
No, I had never read it! We did Tess of the d'Urbervilles at school so I never got to do it, when this came up I read the book. I was actually involved in the workshop back in November, just after Jacques Brel. I did a week of workshopping with Jess (Jessica Swale) the director who has also adapted the novel. I very quickly read the book… but ran out of time so ended up listening to the audio book while I was painting my house [laughs]. It’s very much easier to listen without having to look - it is a very long, long book. We had a great time in the workshop trying to help her work out the flow of the play before coming to do it properly now.
Bathsheba is an almighty character, completely different to everything else you’ve done recently. How have you found taking her on?
It’s brilliant! It’s so epic and kind of great to play someone who’s not a very likeable character [laughs]. She’s like an anti-heroine; the audience are rooting for her to get her comeuppance. She maybe has made the wrong decisions along the way… it’s such a massive part so I’m very grateful to have the responsibility.
Gina and the cast of Far From the Madding Crowd
She inherits this farm, takes over the management and finds love along the way – what can people expect?
Well I think it will be quite surprising for people who do know the novel because this adaptation is very funny, a lot of people have said “I didn’t expect it to be so funny!” Although there is humour in Hardy’s novels, there is an expectation of it all being doom and gloom… obviously there are some tragic moments as well. Basically if you come and watch this you’re in for a rollercoaster journey, it’s slightly melodramatic with a lot of surprises along the way… some gunshots… it’s great! There are nine of us actors and a lot of the cast play several different parts, so it’s a lot of a fun watching people swapping hats and all that kind of thing. We have a fantastic design as well! The Watermill is a very interesting space to play because it has quite a small stage. Obviously it’s all wood; I like to think of it being like a magical grotto in there.
It’s the perfect venue for this play!
Yes – it really is perfect! The design has a lot of wood onstage, there are these two trucks we move about to create different spaces. It works really well!
It’s amazing! It’s just so relaxing and lovely, just right by the river and watermill. It’s in a completely amazing nature reserve which has like twenty houses and a theatre in the village. There are a whole load of ducks and chickens and swans hanging around all the time [laughs]. We all live on site, I literally live across the car park from the theatre in a little cottage which I share with two of the other actors. People sometimes say being here is like a beautiful prison, unless you have a car you are just here [laughs]. You can’t really go anywhere!
It’s like a nice little theatrical retreat!
It is! [jokingly] Just with a lot more alcohol… [laughs] what else is there to do?!
You’ve worked with Jess before when she directed you in The Belle’s Stratagem at the Southwark Playhouse. A lot of people are predicting big things for her! What is it like to be reunited?
I’m so chuffed that she asked me to do it! Obviously when you’ve worked for someone before you feel they must like you enough to want to work with you again [laughs]. I was really bowled over when she asked me to play this part. She is an amazing director; I trust her so much because I know how good her work is and we had amazing success with the last play we did. I basically just lean on her and get her to do the work for me… she tells me what to do and I just say “ok!” She’s brilliant and I’m very excited to see what happens with her career, hopefully she’ll take me along with her!
Everyone always says they want to work on something from scratch which is exactly what you’ve done with this, workshopping it and then doing a run. Have you enjoyed the process?
I’m really enjoying it! It’s just so fun to create something new. Obviously it’s fun to do the other shows; it’s a very different process when you’re stepping into somebody else’s shoes… literally [laughs]. It’s good for your brain, this has been so challenging because we’ve been rehearsing so much – there was such a lot of stuff to work on. Not just the play itself, but the scenery and set changes are quite complex and we’ve got a lot of music in the production. Hopefully it has paid off!
Can you believe that Carey Mulligan has stolen your role in the new movie which has just come out?!
I know! It’s really funny, the other day I was in bed and had the TV on downstairs and suddenly heard some of my lines and it really freaked me out! I realised it must have been the trailer for the film [laughs]. It’s great! It’s good timing, hopefully it will make people interested to come down and check out our version. A lot of people say that I look like Carey Mulligan which makes me laugh.
You actually do look alike – I had never thought of that!
I feel like she has stolen my film career… which is a bit rude! But she can have it – it’s fine [laughs].
Simon Bailey & Gina in The Phantom of the Opera / Photo Credit Catherine Ashmore
Some people working in musical theatre get pigeonholed and just go from musical to musical. Is it important for you to keep the balance between doing plays and musicals?
Yes, it’s really important to me. This has come along at a good time and I’m really hoping it will open a few doors so I can do both sides of the coin. As I get older there won’t be so many parts available for me, so it’s good to be able to do more straight theatre as well as musicals so I can keep working.
It must be nice to be able to wake up in the morning and not have to worry about humming and checking your voice is warmed up…
I know, it’s like a breath of fresh air! I actually have to sing a little bit, I sing a folk song at one point in the show but it’s not quite the same as the big aria that I used to sing in Phantom [laughs]. It’s nice to still do a little bit of singing.
Right, do you want to take on West End Frame’s brand new killer stagey question?
Oh my god absolutely! Brilliant!!
Ok, so you’re hosting a dinner party and you can invite three theatrical legends, dead or alive. Who would you invite and why?
Judi Dench because she’s my idol! I have not met her, well I did ask for her autograph once and I said to her “You’re wonderful” and she said “I think I’ve got someone’s pen” [laughs], that was the sum total of our conversation! So I feel that if she came to my dinner party I could maybe find out a bit more about her. I would also invite… umm… Julie Andrews because I’ve heard she’s got a sort of filthy mind so it would be interesting to see what her sense of humour is like behind the squeaky image. Who else? Maybe a man? This sounds weird but I think Leonard Bernstein would be interesting. I’ve watched the big documentary of him recording West Side Story and he comes across as a very interesting character – maybe he could liven things up!
That would be an interesting dynamic!
Wouldn’t it?! Judi Dench, Julie Andrews and Leonard Bernstein! We should make it happen!
It must be so nice to have people travelling from all over to come and see you in Newbury?
It’s amazing! It’s really funny to see them all turn up down here. Two girls came at the beginning of the run, and they also came to see me in Wicked in Nashville and Salt Lake City from England which was amazing! It blows my mind that people would want to travel to see me in something, it’s really humbling! People are so dedicated – it adds a bit of pressure!
Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Far From the Madding Crowd runs at the Watermill Theatre until Saturday 23rd May 2015.
Please visit www.watermill.org.uk for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit 1-3&5 : Michael Wharley