“Graduating from drama school in the middle of a pandemic was really tough”: Matilda Bailes on making her professional debut in Persuasion
Jeff James and James Yeatman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion opens at the Rose Theatre on 3rd March 2022, with previews from 26th February, and runs until 19th March 2022. This version of Austen’s novel has been riotously reimagined for the 21st century and its soundtrack features Frank Ocean, Dua Lipa and Cardi B. In this captivating adaptation, James and Yeatman retain the quick wit and scandal of the original text but switch Regency ballrooms for neon lights to present this 19th-century romance as you’ve never seen it before.
The Upcoming spoke to Matilda Bailes who will be taking on the roles of Elizabeth and Louisa in this play. Bailes graduated from LAMDA in 2021 with a BA (Hons) in Professional Acting. Her theatre credits whilst training include playing Val in Fen, Sarah in Sparks and Clytemnestra in Agamemnon.
How does it feel to be making your professional debut?
It’s still a bit surreal! On the first day, I had serious first-day-of-school nerves, but everyone was so lovely and welcoming, and I’m just having the best time. I’ve learnt so much from watching everyone work in rehearsals, and I feel incredibly lucky to be doing such a fun, exciting show with such an amazing group of artists.
How did you discover that acting was the profession for you?
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.
Were you familiar with Jane Austen’s work before coming to this play?
I did English Literature at A-Level, so we had touched on some of Jane Austen’s work, but this is the first time I’ve properly delved into the world of Austen (and I’m loving it)!
Did this role come with new challenges?
Yes, definitely. It’s been really interesting playing with modernising the more classical language of Austen; I think initially I was falling into the traditions of “Regency”, so I’ve had to work a bit harder to bring these characters and the words I’m speaking into the present day. Also, there’s a lot of dancing which is so much fun but wasn’t something I was as confident in, so it’s been great to do more boogying!
What has it been like to play two different characters in the same play?
It’s been really interesting experimenting with the differences between the two characters, and how they relate to the others in the play. Initially, I think I was worried about trying to make them really different, but the words, costumes, and just the nature of the two characters and how they relate to the world are inherently different, so that’s made it a lot easier. They’re both really fun!
What is it about the characters of Elizabeth/Louisa that resonate most with you?
They both interrogate womanhood, love and navigating desire in very human ways, but just at two different points in life; Elizabeth is trying to negotiate societal pressures, her family, past heartbreak and her own desire, whilst Louisa is experiencing love and sex for the first time. I think I’ve probably got bits of both of them!
Who is your favourite character in Persuasion and Austen’s works as a whole?
My favourite character in Persuasion is Admiral Croft because he’s such a gem and I just want to give him a hug. I do love Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice too!
How do the songs of artists such as Cardi B and Dua Lipa lend themselves to Austen’s work, and what other artists do people have to look forward to hearing in the show?
They’re not only the best to boogie to, but they also ignite ideas about female sexuality, love and passion that were relevant in Austen’s society and remain relevant today. You can also look forward to hearing some bangers from Frank Ocean and Robyn!
What is your favourite part of Persuasion (book/play)?
The foam party – I’m sure Jane Austen would’ve loved it too!
In your career so far, what would you say has been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in the industry?
Graduating from drama school in the middle of a pandemic was really tough, and there was so much uncertainty, but it also made me realise just how much I love acting, and how necessary it is to mine and so many others’ lives. Also, I think imposter syndrome is a big one for me, but when I find myself having those kinds of thoughts, I journal, meditate, listen to a podcast and remind myself how hard I’ve worked and how far I’ve come.
If you had any advice to give your younger self, or those looking to get into acting, what would it be?
You deserve to have fun, to ask questions, to experiment, to stand up for yourself, to take up space. You deserve to be there. So, stop doubting and comparing yourself, and just GO FOR IT.
When you’re not acting/working, what are your go-to hobbies?
I’m a bit in love with Pilates, and go to about three to four classes a week! I also love cooking and experimenting with new recipes.
What/who would you say has been your theatrical inspiration?
My mum, who had the most magical, exciting, creative mind, would always be front row of every show cheering me on!
What is the main message you hope people will take away from seeing this play?
Don’t be afraid to love. What’s meant for you will find its way to you!
Thank you for your time.
Persuasion is at Rose Theatre from 26th February until 19th March 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.