‘Befriending chickens and crushing cans’

One girl’s life in Pondling

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman.

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman.

A STORY of love, beauty, chicken-chasing, daisy chains, cat-killing, French singing, dress-wearing, en-suite bathrooms, and the day at the pond. These are the ingredients of Pondling, written and performed by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman.

Pondling, which was shortlisted for the Stewart Parker Award, also saw its creator named Best Actress at last year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. The play, presented by Guna Nua Theatre Company, comes to Druid’s Mick Lally Theatre next week for three performances from Thursday April 17 to Saturday 19 at 8pm.

Pondling centres on a young girl in rural Ireland named Madeleine, and her real and imagined worlds: “Proud she was in the park that day with her shiny black shoes from a shiny green box. As she peddled through the park she took quick glances down to her feet deciding that cream tights were definitely the right choice; they did accentuate her raven black shoes. She was free, brave, beautiful, and she was ready to go back to school in a week and a half and show Johnno Boyle O’Connor how free and brave she really was.”

Ahead of her play’s Galway visit, Dubliner Genevieve, a graduate of the Gaiety School of Acting, talked about the play’s genesis and the acclaim which greeted its inaugural run.

“Even before going to the Gaiety I did speech and drama in school and acting classes all the way through school,” she tells me. “I was always devising scenes or short little plays but I never would have thought of it as writing because I never wrote anything down, it was just devising and improvising.

“Then in the Gaiety we had a module about creating your own work so I wrote my first piece for that. It was just a short five-minute piece but it was the first time I wrote anything down. Paul Meade was my mentor for that. I really enjoyed writing so that’s how it started. After graduating from the Gaiety I did the show Little Gem which Paul directed, then did a mix of directing and acting in fringe shows and stuff like Pride and Prejudice at the Gate.”

Her one-time mentor Paul Meade also directs Pondling. Genevieve describes how the play came about and its central character.

“Pondling was my first professional stage script,” she says. “I just started off with this idea of a young girl who was confessing to something she has done and I worked backwards from that in the play. What could she have done that was so horrific - even though that is never specified in the play what it actually is, it’s for the audience to decide.

“Madeleine is a young girl of about eight to 10 years old who lives on a farm with her grandfather and brother. She is deprived of female contact and she has these overblown romantic ideas about being what a woman is and her aim in life is to be a glamorous lady and marry Johnno Boyle O’Connor.

“She is a very strong-willed, feisty, bold character, she is very particular about everything in her life but it is just unfortunate for her that she has to live on a farm with her grandad and brother, she feels that is not where she should be in life. She is there on the farm befriending the chickens and crushing cans, and little jobs here and there.”

There is a rich vein of humour running through the play: “It is dark and it is comic throughout but for me those two things go together,” Genevieve observes. “I feel you can’t have one without the other. What I like about Madeleine is that, because she is so young, her emotions can be blown up, yet still feel real for her, and that makes for good comedy. You have someone who doesn’t realise their feelings are maybe a little inappropriate or out-of-proportion.”

Amid the humour however there is also a palpable poignancy. To quote from Irish Theatre Magazine’s four-star review of the play; ‘[Genevieve’s] vocal and physical intensity perfectly captures the inner self-narration of a child who’s not got much in the way of social skills, and yet has enormous dreams. Her behaviour can be seen as comical, and yet underneath it all is a threnody of deep sadness and loss.’

Pondling was one of the hit shows at the Dublin Fringe Festival where it received its premiere and it now returns for a national tour. Genevieve is understandably pleased with the success of her debut play.

“The response was great,” she states. “It started out as just a little project that I felt I had to do, I had written a shorter version for the 2013 Collaboration festival and this was the natural next step, to try and write a full length play. It was about me seeing could I do.

“With Madeleine I was unsure about how people would respond to her because it can be dark and over the top and I didn’t know whether audiences would be able to laugh and enjoy it. I didn’t know what to expect because it is a strange little story so I was really surprised at the response, people really took to it and lots of people, women especially, came up to me afterwards and were sharing stories about themselves when they were little girls.”

Having made a splash with her debut, Genevieve is already planning a trip to Annahgmakerrig to commence work on her next play, which she hopes will be ready next year.

In the meantime Galway audiences can enjoy Pondling at the Mick Lally Theatre, Druid Lane. Tickets are €15/12 from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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