Interview: LUTG’s The Gut Girls

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On Tuesday-Thursday Week 8 LUTG’s The Gut Girls heads to The Gregson Centre in Lancaster. I sat down with Director Máire Robinson, and Actor Abi Beavan to talk about the show.

How did you both first get involved in theatre, and then with LUTG?

Máire: I started in LUTG in my first term, first year; I acted in American Dream, and then Our Country’s Good and then The Lady In The Van. This is my first time Directing. I got my first main role in Year 5 when I got to play a donkey in a school show. I’ve also loved reading and make believe play, and I think that contributed to that love of theatre. I love the creativity, and the playfulness of it – I don’t I ever grew out of those make believe games.

Abi: I was in West Side Story last year, and this is my first LUTG show. When I was about 4 I started Stagecoach and it kind of just spiralled from there.. I don’t think I’ve been out of a theatre group since then for more than a year. I’ve always wanted to be an actor.

How are you both finding it so far?

Máire: It’s really fun, it’s very different. It’s very interesting having creative control over everything, and being in charge of everything. It’s challenging but it’s fun, and it’s great to work with loads of different people.

Abi: Yeah, it’s brilliant. I’m really enjoying it.  I do theatre as my degree, but being in an LUTG is just great, it’s a lot of fun.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the play, and how this production came about?

Máire: It’s set in the early 20th century, it was written in 1989, and it’s about a group of working class women who work in the gutting sheds of Deptford. They’re well paid but it’s a very degrading job, society looks down upon them. Then an upper class lady, Lady Helena swoops in and she tries to set up a class to turn them into ‘ladies’. The story focuses around what happens from then onwards. It’s very fun, but it’s also quite sad.  I’ve known the play for quite a few years now, and I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s something that I’m interested in, all the themes of the play, and the focus on the female characters. So pretty much from Easter onwards I was planning to propose the play.

Abi: I’ve loved Gut Girls for ages, I studied it at A-level and when I found out Maire was proposing it, I was ecstatic and then when I got the call to say that I was playing Maggie, it was amazing.

Can you tell me more about Maggie and the other characters in The Gut Girls?

Abi:  I’m playing Maggie and she’s one of the gut girls, and she takes no nonsense, and when Annie comes in she’s kind of welcoming but she’s quite a hostile person. You can see when she’s with the girls she’s a lot more friendly, she doesn’t really like any of the men. One of the bartenders is trying to marry her but she’s not having it. Maggie has some quite serious parts in the play, I often do quite comedic roles or at least I have in the past. So doing something quite a lot more serious with Maggie has been challenging. It’s been nice to really get my teeth into the role.

Then you’ve got Ellen who’s one of the other gut girls, and she’s good mates with Maggie, but you don’t see her with the gut girls as much. She wants change, and she wants the girls to rise above their current positions.

Máire: There’s also the upper class woman. There’s Lady Helena, she’s a classic toff and she thinks she’s doing everything for the good of the gut girls but really it’s for her own self-gratification. She has a friend called Priscilla. Priscilla is very timid and her husband is abusive towards her, and she’s beaten down by that. Lady Helena has another friend called Edwin who is a bit of a nasty character but we don’t see that until later in the play. In the beginning we see him as a bit of a bumbling fool but really he’s got a very dark side.

What do you feel are the major themes of the play?

Abi: Feminism.

Máire: Ultimately it’s a feminist play in the sense that feminism incorporates all circumstances. It celebrates the working class camaraderie, against the meddling of the upper classes. It was written in 1989 in response to Margaret Thatcher so lots of the events of 1980’s are reflected in the play. The idea that these girls are working in the gutting sheds  and doing ‘degrading’ jobs and their not working in serving houses, and Maggie doesn’t want to get married, and Ellen stands on her own two feet.

Abi: The men in the play can’t really understand it, under this patriarchal society, they can’t really understand how these women can work for themselves and look after themselves. Those themes were definitely part of wanting to be involved in the play.

Máire: There’s such a divide between the upper class and the working class girls. The gut girls are very strong and show more typically masculine traits and that’s what the working class men like Len and Jim struggle with. Jim is the butchers boy but he’s not at all suited to the role, he’s very feminine and people make fun of him. Len wants to marry Maggie, but Maggie is more powerful than him in that situation. Overall it plays with the idea of performing gender roles, and masculinity in particular.

I think the themes are definitely still relevant today, especially with the Tory government which was elected this year. Also, it explores what femininity is, and what masculinity is, and it also touches on class differences, and I feel all of those themes are still relevant today.

How much scope was there to interpret the play?

Abi: There’s not very much stage direction, so Maire can do a lot of the blocking in the way that she wants, allowing it to go in the way that she imagined it.

Máire: There’s a lot of subtext, that I didn’t notice and then slowly started to come out the script. There’s connotations of a gay relationship, and I only realised it during the rehearsals for the last bit. It was one of those moments where you’re like “Hang on!”

Abi: There was a scene we were doing the other day where if you read it, it comes across as a serious scene but when we performed it, it came out as really comedic and funny.

How’s the production been coming along?

Abi: Really well, we’ve stormed through it.

Máire: We finished going through the script on Wednesday, so now it’s a matter of fine tuning it. [On how they started production]  Especially since it’s a big cast, and we had a lot of first years, and a lot of first performers with LUTG. So we started by playing a few games. I asked them to come to rehearsal with something that makes them feel really happy, really sad, and really angry. We did an exercise, after the read through, where I got them all to lie on the floor and think about what makes them happy, sad, and angry. The aim was to bring those emotions into the characters.

What should people expect from the performance?

Abi: Big characters

Máire: Definitely. Lots of high energy. To enjoy themselves but I’d like to think they’ll also leave feeling hopeful. That last scene is very challenging towards the audience as it challenges them to really go out and change society.

For tickets email or for more information head to the LUTG Presents: The Gut Girls Facebook Page


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