A new Nellie takes over in Chichester's South Pacific
A different Nellie is now delighting the crowds at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Alex Young is now sharing the role of Nellie Forbush with Gina Beck, who is pregnant, in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific at the CFT.
She will take over full-time from August 23 for the remainder of the run (until September 4).
Alex, who is herself mum to ten-month-old Maggie, admits it’s a slightly unusual situation – but it really oughtn’t to be.
“When the news broke that Gina and I would be sharing, everyone was incredibly happy and then surprised that they were happy because seriously it should be happening more. It’s a really wonderful moment and they have made it easy, but it really should be easy.
“But actually, I do think it is getting better (in the theatre). It used to be a little bit unforgiving when someone became pregnant. Every company is different, every producer is different, every show is different, but there was a time when it was difficult. But theatre is quite ready and willing to diversify in all sorts of ways, and mothers should certainly be included in that.
“I think the way the world is moving, people are aware that people have certain privileges and don’t have certain privileges and also aware that particularly in the arts, you are effectively self-employed.
“But the way of the world is moving, and I think Chichester has always led the way.
“It has got a very loyal audience and very loyal staff and it has got the facilities and the ability to support two leading ladies who are both mothers.
And if there is anything at all fortunate about the pandemic situation, Alex says, it was that it coincided pretty much with her pregnancy: “I was three months pregnant doing a play up in Sheffield, Coriolanus, and we got cut short and I was unemployed like the rest of my industry. So it was not like I was missing out on anything.
“When you do decide to have a baby or another baby, you could be worrying about what you are missing and how you will ever get back. But I was lucky in a way that everyone went into confinement at the same time as I did in effect! And I know that really you shouldn’t think like that, but it can be scary to have a baby. When you are a woman, you can be nervous about what it means for your career.
“But I don’t think it has changed who I am. There is that thought that once you are a mother, the only thing you care about is your children. And definitely my baby is a huge priority in my life, but at the same time I don’t think being a mother has changed my investment in my work, and I definitely feel glad that I am able to work again so soon. But I have never done anything like this before where I have stepped into a role like this. I just haven’t had that sort of experience. There are so many extraordinary understudies in the West End and the regions who are so incredible at learning their own parts and other big principal roles, but I have never done that. This is a new experience.
“But I feel in very safe hands with Daniel (Evans, artistic director of CFT and director of South Pacific) who I have worked with a number of times. We have got a good working relationship and I knew that he would not be asking me just to come in and copy Gina and that I would be wanting to bring my own thing to it to a certain extent. I wanted to be able to do my own version, but without wanting to disrupt the tone of the show or the spirit of the show. And it has been great. Gina and I are great pals. It has been lovely.
“I think we have a similar idea of what being a woman means on stage. But we are different. She done a lot of leading ingenues on stage and she is exceptionally beautiful. She is used to being sung to by beautiful men. I have done more comedy roles and am not used to taking myself so seriously on stage!”