Michael Alexander speaks to actress Georgie Glen about her memories of chips in Cupar, school in St Andrews and why her role in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new audio play Who are you? has made her release no one is doing enough to save the planet.
Actress Georgie Glen says she gets recognised most for her roles in Little Britain, Heartbeat, Waterloo Road, and Call the Midwife.
But the 65-year-old from Helensburgh laughs that people often see her as a familiar face – even if they can’t quite remember why.
“Often people think I was a teacher who taught them when they were at school!”, she laughs.
“They know my face and say ‘hello’, but then you see doubt creep in.
“Once a guy on a train was staring at me. There was something strange about him.
“Then when I got off he shouted ‘I know Wandsworth Prison!’
“The whole train carriage turned to look. We waved and to this day I don’t know who he thought I was. Maybe he had seen me in Heartbeat. But I think he’d been in prison! I must have reminded him of something.”
Fond Fife memories
Georgie, who reveals she has fond memories of stopping for fish and chips in Cupar while travelling to St Leonard’s School in St Andrews as a teenager in the 1970s, says she’s lucky to be remembered for mainly “likeable” roles.
By contrast, she says some of the hate mail her acting friends get “beggars belief” when trolls get their fictional characters confused with the actor.
For her latest role in award-winning playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new audio play Who are You? however, Georgia sees the character Vivian that she plays as “pretty much herself”.
The environmentally themed play Who Are You? – the final play in the opening of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Lyceum Theatre and Naked Production new audio-digital venture Sound Stage – tells the story of Vivian who lives alone at the top of a hill.
However, one day, Vivian returns from collecting firewood to discover she is not alone anymore.
Wertenbaker’s new drama poses many important questions about the current state of our world – questions from which we can no longer escape and which, the play warns, we ignore at our own peril.
“Vivian is me really,” says Georgia.
“She’s had a conventional life, she’s had a job, she’s had a husband and her children have grown up and gone away and she’s on her own.
“I presume she’s downsized. She’s gone off and got a wee cottage by herself in the country to live a simpler life. She feels she’s done her bit and she’s just going to have her log fire and her little garden and she’s going to plant flowers for the bees. Her little bit of Earth and the planet she’s going to look after.
“Then along comes this other character played brilliantly by Saskia Ashdown, called The Presence. It’s left to you to decide really what The Presence is – is she in Vivian’s mind or conscience or a physical manifestation?
“It’s a bit like a Beckett play – there’s an element of doubt.
“It’s challenging her way of life that makes her feel very defensive. She feels she’s not a bad person. She’s doing good. She’s moved to where she is to be less harmful towards the planet. But Presence just pushes and pushes and basically with the message it’s not enough.”
Georgia reveals that the play does not have a happy ending. She describes it as “bleak”.
With COP 26 on the horizon, the underlying message from Timberlake is that while individually many people might be doing something to help the environment, as a whole we are doing nowhere near enough, and this will have consequences.
It’s something that’s stuck with Georgia since taking on the role because, like Vivian, she feels she “isn’t doing enough”.
She feels helpless against the “unstoppable force” of power and money that seems to run the planet – and she knows she’s not alone in her thinking.
“I separate my rubbish,” she says. “I drive a petrol car. I’m scared of getting an electric car because I’m scared it won’t take me as far as I need to go. I drive up and down to Scotland regularly instead of taking the train. I’ll shop at a supermarket.
“I am hypocritical in the way I live. But I don’t espouse to be other than that.
“I think I’m a typical person in my environment that does their own little bit, but I see it’s not enough. I don’t go beyond. I’m not sticking my hands to the M25. I’m not an activist. I’ve got friends who are – including my ‘Warrior Friend’. I admire that but I’m not just that kind of person.
“Like Vivian keeps saying in the play, I am bothered, I am disturbed. But the implication of this play is that it’s too late.”
Impact of Covid-19
When the Covid-19 pandemic began, filming for Call the Midwife was suspended, picking up again later on. Georgia managed to pick up other work in the months that followed.
However, she feels for actors who had projects completely canned or those working in theatre whose shows were cancelled.
She firmly believes good things come from every bad experience and is full of praise for Pitlochry Festival Theatre diversifying into Sound Stage audio, and outdoor shows, during the pandemic.
It’s an analogy that comes back to the environmental theme.
“It’s like the play and nature,” she says. “If you leave a void nature will fill it. It’s the same if you stop the world – creativity will find a way.”
Life and career
Born and brought up in the west of Scotland, after graduating from Glasgow School of Art, Georgia worked at publishers Thames and Hudson for five formative and happy years before throwing caution to the wind and running off to the stage.
Two years at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School prepared her for the rigours of theatrical life after which she was fortunate to be offered a year’s work, plus the all important equity card, at the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich.
There, three weekly rep proved to be an invaluable apprenticeship and laid a strong foundation on which to build her career.
Other theatres followed – The National, Chichester, Scarborough, Leeds, Salisbury, Regents Park, not to mention a very memorable summer at The Gilded Balloon.
However, after her twin daughters arrived, TV and film provided a more manageable way forward and an apprenticeship of a different kind was served with the likes of Harry Enfield, Julia Davies, Little Britain and Armando Ianucci.
Then, from comedy to corsets, Mrs Brown, Daniel Deronda, Wives and Daughters, Les Miserables, Tillie Trotter and Hettie Feather, also Calendar Girls (without a corset!), Behind her Eyes, Damned and intermittent tours of duty playing Sargeant Noakes in Heartbeat.
Georgie is always happy when her work brings her home and filming north of the border has included The Crown, The Victim, Get Duked, The Little Vampire, Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Taggart and three years of ‘teaching’ history at Waterloo Road! She also had the honour of sharing a stage with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, narrating The Snowman at Christmas time in concert venues around Scotland. Truly a career highlight.
Timberlake Wertenbaker’s plays have included the Olivier award winning Our Country’s Good (Royal Court, National Theatre and Broadway); Winter Hill Jefferson’s Garden, Our Ajax, The Line, Galileo’s Daughter, Credible Witness, The Break of the Day, Three Birds Alighting on a Field, The Grace of Mary, The Ash Girl, After Darwin and The Love of the Nightingale.
Who are You? Runs from October 29-31 on Sound Stage.