Currently, Matilda Bailes is making her professional debut as Elizabeth/Louisa in the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, running at Rose Theatre in Kingston until 19th March, with the show featuring music from artists such as Frank Ocean and Dua Lipa. Matilda trained at LAMDA where she graduated during the pandemic last year. Talking with Matilda, she tells us about playing Elizabeth/Louisa in Persuasion, making her professional debut with the show and graduating from LAMDA.
Can you tell us about the new stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, in which you will be playing Elizabeth/Louisa?
The new adaptation of Persuasion is a contemporary, fun-filled re-imagining of Austen’s classic novel, with a lot of boogying, a foam party and a great soundtrack from artists such as Frank Ocean, Dua Lipa and Lizzo. It’s a rollercoaster of a show that will have you laughing one moment and crying the next.
How much did you know about the story before auditioning and what drew you to the production?
I’d heard of Persuasion but I’d never read it, so it was super exciting to get to discover the world and the characters for the first time. I loved the idea of making an Austen classic relatable to audiences today, and showing just how human and relatable the story is to our current society, even though it was written in 1817.
Why would you recommend seeing the show and who do you think it will appeal to?
The show is really joyous, and full of so much life and colour, yet also challenges and confronts the audience. I really think it has something for everyone; the hopeless romantics, the cynics, and everyone in between.
What was it like reading the script for the first time and rehearsing for the show?
When I first read the script, I fell in love with all of the characters and the absurdity of the world instantly, and then I fell in love all over again when we started rehearsals – Jeff James (the playwright and director) is a genius! I do remember getting lots of strange looks when I first read it, however, as I was laughing out loud in some very busy public places.
Is there anything you are looking forward to most for the run and having Persuasion feature music from Frank Ocean, Dua Lipa and Cardi B?
I’m really looking forward to sharing this story with audiences, and to get onstage with all the costumes, music and lighting. It’s going to be so great to see it all come to life in the theatre, and I’m especially excited for the foam party!
How is it having this stage show as your professional debut?
It’s been such a joy, and it really is the loveliest group of people. I have learnt so much from watching everyone do their thing in rehearsals, and seeing how the whole team work together to put the show on. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of Persuasion, and to get to do what I love every day.
Was there anything that encouraged you to train at LAMDA and how was your time there?
I remember going to my first audition at LAMDA and feeling instantly at home; the students were really friendly and the vibe was very relaxed, so I knew it was the place for me. Being constantly surrounded by its buzz and creativity (and, at times, over-tired excitableness!) helped me develop not only as an actor, but as a person, and grow in confidence massively. I loved my time there and learnt so much from our teachers, directors and fellow actors that I will carry with me throughout my career, as well as making friends for life.
Can you tell us about some of the shows you performed in whilst training?
I was very lucky to do some great shows at LAMDA, and a really cool short film directed by the amazing Michelle Bonnard. My favourite play that I did whilst training was Fen by Caryl Churchill, directed by the incredible Jaz Woodcock-Stewart, in which I played the role of Val. It was a story that really resonated with me as it was set just down the road from where I grew up, in the rural countryside near the Fenlands, so I recognised people I knew in all of the characters. Throughout drama school, I was told a lot to just let go and get out of my head, and I feel like this was a pivotal moment for me as an actor, as it was one of the first times I fully let go and took my space on stage. We also had a floor made of soil, bucket-loads of potatoes and creepy versions of Britney Spears songs – what wasn’t there to love?!
What was it like graduating during the pandemic last year?
It was really tough, and I know myself and many of my friends struggled to keep morale up at times. Everything was so uncertain and it felt really unfair that we had such a huge disruption at a time that should’ve been super exciting and the beginning of our careers. We had to miss out on a lot of stuff that we’d been working towards for ages (which I know was the case industry-wide, not just for our graduating cohort). However, the pandemic also put a lot of things into perspective, and reminded me just how vital acting is to my life and to so many others, and why I love it so much. It forced me to be independent and take my career into my own hands. I’m just so happy and grateful to be back in the room doing what I love.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
It sounds a bit cliché but when I was seven, my mum took me to my first drama class, and I think that was it for me. I experimented with other things and tried out different subjects, but I always just kept coming back to acting. I regularly attended various youth theatre groups in Norfolk, and was involved in all of the school plays, and I think my love for it just kept growing from there.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch and which would you like to see that you haven’t done so as yet?
I really love watching new writing and contemporary plays that explore interesting, taboo or challenging subjects. One particular performance that sticks with me is when I watched Emilia by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2019, and I couldn’t leave my seat for about half an hour after it ended because I was crying so much. I was completely in awe of the writing and all the performances; it really felt like every actor onstage that evening had given a piece of themselves to us as an audience and cared so much about the story they were telling. It was magic. I’d love to see more shows at the Bush Theatre, as they put on some really exciting new plays.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I love spending time with my friends, and staying in with my housemates to watch Gogglebox or First Dates or Married at First Sight (if you haven’t watched it – DO!).
I also love to cook, and I’m really into Pilates at the moment.
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