The Stepmother Blog 1: Finding Lois’ feet.

18 Jan

From 5th-15th March I will be performing in Githa Sowerby’s The Stepmother with the York Settlement Community Players (YSCP). The play, which has largely been left unperformed since it was written in the early 20th century, follows a young girl (Lois), unexpectedly left a huge inheritance, and the older man (Eustace) who takes her in and marries her for her money. What happens next is a fascinating tale of betrayal and what happens when secrets bubble up to the surface.

For me, being cast as Lois is hugely exciting. Too often roles for young actresses in classic plays are classified by the character’s sex life – deemed either a bolshy whore or a simpering virgin. Sex does play a role in the play but it doesn’t define who Lois is. In fact, she is many things – a business woman, a mother, a wife, a lover – but first and foremost a woman trying to do what she thinks best in any given situation and trying to keep her head, and the heads of those she cares for, above water.

Some might therefore call Lois a ‘strong woman’, but I tend to dislike such a label on female characters seeing as it’s never applied to men. This would also force a blanket term on her and, in my opinion, she operates on so many different levels throughout the play and is certainly not always ‘strong’. When we first meet her, she is a vulnerable but sparky 19 year old girl and when we meet her again ten years later (and after the First World War), she has blossomed into a confident 29 year old woman (albeit not entirely worldly wise). This is my first challenge as an actor – to be able to play both ages convincingly. I think the fact that I fall pretty much slap bang in the middle of her two ages is an advantage, but I still have to convince the audience that time has passed! Luckily, I am helped so much by Sowerby’s text. Lois is written so beautifully on the page, and I cannot help but read the older Lois’ dialogue as more self-assured.

Rehearsals so far have been really interesting and we have had many organic discussions with Maggie, our director, about our characters and their relationships. Some of my favourite passages are Lois and Eustace’s many ‘discussions’, which get gradually more heated as their marriage becomes colder. It would be easy to play them all as shouting matches, but then you wouldn’t get the many sides of their characters and situation. Also, I’m not entirely sure the audience would warm to Lois’ personality as easily. The words I’ve noted down during these passages are, therefore, deliberately varied – Steely, matter-of-fact, honest, teasing, genuine, sneaky, harsh, direct, scared, practical, panicked, calm, uncomfortable, incredulous, guilty, angry, suspicious, sincere, frustrated… sometimes I think she is feeling all of these in just one short moment!

After my first reading of the text, I would have called Lois a ‘modern woman’, and I still think this is true to some extent. Even today there are discussions about whether women can have it all, juggling a career, a partner, children etc. Yet as we rehearse the play chronologically, there have been glimpses that she is still very much of her time and bound by morals and conventions that we may not completely recognise today.

I suppose I want an audience member to be enthusiastically cheering her on, yet at the same time wanting to give her a slap in the face. And then I will convince them to join me in singing this.

More The Stepmother blogs can be found here

A preview can be read here

More information about the production and information on tickets can be found here

Follow YSCP on twitter and receive updates about the production here

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