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  • Writer's pictureHinton Magazine

Léa des Garets talks all things GEORGE the new play co-headlining Omnibus 96 Festival

Inspired by the true story of queer French author George Sand and the correspondence shared with her lover Marie Dorval, GEORGE explores the life and work of the 19th century free spirit who subverted the social and literary norms of her time, challenged gender and sexual expectations, and fought for women’s rights. GEORGE is co-headlining Omnibus 96 Festival, London’s longest running festival of LGBTQIA+ performance all under one roof. We spoke to creator Léa des Garets about the show.

 


Léa des Garets

Tell us a bit about the show. 

GEORGE is about 19th century French queer writer George Sand, writing against the norms of her time. 

 

It is about a writer in need of an idea, and who, with the help of her lover (Marie Dorval) ends up writing her first play… and a story she deeply cares about: Gabriel, the adventures of a young prince, who was raised as a man in order to inherit the family’s fortune and title, only to find out that he was born with the sex he was taught to despise — a woman’s. In his quest for justice, his condition meets with various obstacles, rooted in society’s expectations around sexuality and gender expression. George faces the same ones, differently. And so do we. 

 

George’s story unfolds alongside Gabriel’s: as Sand’s character develops, we dive deep into her own life and struggles. We follow her and Marie through the hurdles of writing this play, the growing importance of this very personal work for George and the obstacles that keep standing in her way.

 

Who is George Sand? 

GEORGE is about George Sand’s inner world and continuous fight. She was a revolutionary in her time, in many ways: she separated from her husband and earned her own money with her writing, thus becoming one of the very few financially independent women of her era. She dressed as a man because it was cheaper and more practical. And she adopted a male pen name which she kept and wore proudly, even after her true identity was revealed, shortly after the publication of her first of many novels. She also had many lovers, of all genders - including actress Marie Dorval who is a central character in this play. 

 

George was a true free spirit, and she was both loved and slandered for it. In the play, we see her battle her financial and creative struggles, but most importantly, her place in a society that is not ready to receive her forward-thinking ideas on women’s education, sexuality and gender expression.

 

George Sand was both the perfect young gentlewoman and the perfect young gentleman. She practised cross-dressing just so that she could go around and live freely. So she would dress as a man and take up the pen name of a man to do whatever she wanted to, and go wherever she wanted. She noticed the difference. As a man, she was left alone. And what was at first a disguise became more and more known – quite early on actually, it was known that SHE was GEORGE SAND. SHE was GEORGE. And she carried on living like this, choosing when to dress as a “woman”, choosing when to dress as a “man”. Choosing when to be dressed as George or when to be dressed as Aurore Dupin, which was her birth name. And I found this self-definition of one’s identity and this ostensible queerness exemplary to us today. 

 

How do you approach writing and then acting in the show? 

It has been fascinating. At first, I was really apprehensive: I thought I wouldn’t be able to stop my brain from wanting to rewrite and modify the text when stepping into rehearsals as an actor, that I wouldn’t be able to silence that part of myself. But they have been sort of magically working hand-in-hand: during our Research & Development periods, both parts of my brain were on at the same time. And then when it came to rehearsing for the Criterion showcase and as I started preparing for this run at the Omnibus Theatre, I was able to fully switch off the writing brain to focus solely on the text as an actor. And I keep discovering things! Sometimes I wish I had more distance from it, but then I remember to keep asking "why?" as I go through the text as an actor and I try to make an agreement with myself to look for it in what is already there, not think I need to write more. 

 

 

What is your favourite thing about George? 

About the play, the protagonist or the author? Maybe in all three, what I love the most is finding a character that defies the norm. Someone who dares to be herself and constantly questions her environment and what is imposed on her.  But also someone who is deeply human, vulnerable, open and brave — with all the messiness that can come with that.

 

What do you want people to take away from this show? 

Ultimately, this is a play which, regardless of the era, of your gender identity, of your age even, invites you to be yourself. It shows the absurdity of a society which imposes rules and norms, and tries to shape individuals. It lays bare the dynamics at play in a patriarchal system — and in any kind of oppression.

 

I would love people to leave the show feeling inspired and empowered to act and be.

 

If you could have a conversation with George and one other queer icon, who would it be? 

Probably with Sappho! I don’t know if she would label herself as a queer icon, but I keep finding, as a queer person socialised as a woman, that I want to connect with figures who have made us feel, over and over again, that we aren’t crazy, that we aren’t alone… and that we are so much more than our gender -- and even our sexuality. They both symbolise a woman’s independent brain and creative practice. I feel like having a glass of wine with both of them, talking about the world, politics and feelings, would be incredible. 

 

GEORGE will play at Omnibus 96 Festival from 25th June – 14th July. More information and tickets here: https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/george-2/

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