"Try not to see the bump" says CFT's expectant star

Gina Beck is hoping that Chichester audiences this summer might extend a little further that great leap of the imagination we take when we enter the theatre.
Gina Beck and Julian Ovenden in SOUTH PACIFIC Photo Johan PerssonGina Beck and Julian Ovenden in SOUTH PACIFIC Photo Johan Persson
Gina Beck and Julian Ovenden in SOUTH PACIFIC Photo Johan Persson

“I am hoping that if audiences are happy to imagine themselves on an island in the South Pacific, then they might also be happy to imagine that they are looking at an actress who isn’t actually pregnant!”

Gina (Matilda, Show Boat, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera) is delighted to be making her Chichester Festival Theatre debut in South Pacific this summer (July 5-September 4) but with her second baby due in November, she won’t be go going through all the way to the end of the run.

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Instead Alex Young, who played Sally Smith in the CFT’s Me and My Girl, will share the role of Nellie with Gina from August 5 and will take over full-time from August 23.

There’s an irony in the fact that having waited so long for the show – which was due to be the centrepiece of last year’s cancelled 2020 summer season – Gina will now be stepping off her island rather earlier than planned.

“But hopefully we can have a kind of blind casting, that people will kind of agree not to see that I am pregnant! But the Festival Theatre have just been unbelievable about it all. They didn’t bat an eyelid. They were just immediately ‘Oh! What can we do for you? How can we make this work?’ I have never been in this situation before, but I know that nobody would take anybody who is pregnant; you know that once you are starting to show, you won’t have a chance!”

But CFT artistic director Daniel Evans, who is directing the show, is made of much kinder stuff. In fact, Gina was pregnant once before in a production directed by Daniel.

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“And fortunately with the childcare, my boyfriend is really stepping up to the plate. I have also enlisted a huge raft of childminders and babysitters.

“When I started in Matilda, my daughter was four months old and I took her along to rehearsals every day. The rehearsals were long and I was feeding her during the lunch break. I took her to rehearsals every day, and it just feels like that was training for this! I look back and I think ‘What on earth was I doing?’ But I also think ‘I can do this!’ I am determined to work!

“But unfortunately my time is running out. I felt like I could not just keep putting it off because the biological clock is ticking and in these times you can just take nothing for granted. What if the show hadn’t happened? There is just nothing that is guaranteed.

“But at least once I am in Chichester, I won’t have to do any stuff at home. Once I am going down to Chichester I will be leaving my boyfriend a long, detailed schedule of everything that he needs to do and then I will be just like ‘Bye!’ I think it will all be much more relaxed once I get to Chichester.”

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As for the role, Gina will be playing Nellie Forbush, a navy nurse from Arkansas, who finds herself falling for the French plantation owner Emile de Becque – a man with a mysterious past. It’s an interesting role to play.

“It’s an amazing role. I am playing the heroine and asking the audience to come on board with me and my story until there is a revelation… that Nellie hasn’t really got the ideology to be the heroine. For a moment I turn into the villain of the piece. Usually I play the ingenue, the young sweet girl. Nellie is something different…

“But she is totally what you see is what you get. She is very eager to find out about the world. She has left a very small town in America to go off on a big adventure. She wants to get out of the small-town America life she could have lived, and you are playing someone who has a great enthusiasm for life, but unfortunately she can’t shake off something that is in her small-town background.”