Theatrenow caught up with Geraldine McNulty as she took a brief break from rehearsals for Betty, which opens at the Vaudeville on July 9.
What's it like being in a one-woman play? Do you find it at all lonely? "I'm very comfortable being in a one-woman show — I've spent several years in a variety of them! As for being lonely, it's true that you're the only one up there onstage, but you work — in rehearsals and through the run of the show — with a team: the director, the stage manager, the crew, and so on, so being lonely doesn't really come into it."
Kathy Burke is a very well-known actress, of course. What's she like as a director? "She's a very good director, and although I'm obviously aware of her acting record, from the moment we started work on Betty, I've only ever thought of her as a director."
Presumably, it's a fairly intense relationship as there's only one actor for her to concentrate on directing? "You certainly have the director's full attention in a one-person show! And that's been very helpful. We've worked very closely every day, going over the script line by line, and we had the writer, Karen McLachlan, here for the first week, which was a bonus." You have the advantage of having performed Betty before, at Edinburgh. Did you still remember the lines when you began rehearsals? "If only! It's odd, but however much you enjoy a show — and I love Betty, I love being Betty — the lines do eventually go. It's been about two years since I last did it, and apart from a few favorite phrases, it had all gone!"
How do you learn your lines? "I decided to give myself a break before I started rehearsals, and to really clean up/rearrange my home, as I find that sort of thing a great help — it clears the mind, too. And as I did all that, I learned a page of script a day."
So you were word perfect when rehearsals started? "Yes, I thought that was important. I wanted to have all the words so I could concentrate on Kathy's direction, and working with her on the role, rather than having to spend energy on the lines."
What about when you are onstage? "There's no prompt, so you know you have to do it! The advantage is that, unlike a 'normal' play, you are always onstage, and you have to be concentrating all the time. There isn't the time or opportunity to let your mind wander. In some shows you can be saying your lines while thinking about the laundry or whatever — I know you shouldn't but it does sometimes happen —but with Betty you're in the character and the situation, and even thinking about anything else simply doesn't enter into it."
Betty is a comedy? "It is, it's very funny. I won't give the story line away, but it's a brilliant piece of comic writing, which is why it's such fun to play. The audience love it and are with you all the way, which gives you an amazing high as an actor, so when people say — as you mentioned earlier — that it must be a bit lonely onstage, that really isn't the case. You've got your colleagues in the wings making the technical side of things work, and you're sharing the play with the audience who, as it's a comedy, are audibly traveling the character's journey with you."
What do you hope they get out of the play? "Laughter! I want people to know that if they come to see Betty, they'll get lots of belly laughs. I want them squealing with laughter. I want to hear them laughing as they remember parts of the show on the way out of the theatre!"
Betty begins previews at the Vaudeville on July 5 and opens on July 9.
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow