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‘George’, the play took us back to the 19th century, where the protagonist, George Sand, challenged gender norms by living her life as a man.

Léa Des Garets as George Sand. Photo by the incredible, Benjamin Graham

The play confirms that regardless of the era, the illusion of societal norms could never tame the mind of a free soul. George Sand, aka Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, was a French novelist played and written by talented young writer and actress Léa Des Garets, from France. Léa stumbled upon the vague details of George’s story of being a pioneer for change when it came to self-expression as a woman and a writer.  

In a fascinating chat with Léa herself, she enthusiastically describes her introduction to George Sand. She spoke about how George didn’t have the best image and she wasn’t very well known in her lifetime.

But as Léa dug into her autobiography, she found enigmatic layers to her character. She said, “There were extracts from her autobiography where she’s saying things in the 19th century which I’m still talking about today. About equality and freedom of being yourself.”

George Sand was a pseudonym she carried to be identified as a man. It was the only way to establish herself as a writer with the likes of Victor Hugo as her contemporary.

She dressed like a man, wore trousers and jackets to blend in with the men who had the privilege to be out and about. Explored multiple romantic interests and also divorced her husband at the time.

George was unafraid, and that’s what compelled Léa to craft a story around her life and embody her presence in this world again.

Léa Des Garets as Gabriel. Photo by Benjamin Graham

Léa shares, “She’s really cool. I feel really privileged, two centuries later, to talk about the feelings she didn’t have the words for and to act as her, I love acting. I just needed other brains with me, to create together. I am a team player. So what started out as a solo journey, ended up being teams who just came together.”

Léa is supported by a wonderful team who brought George to life again. The play was directed by the kind and graceful, Rute Costa, whom I had the pleasure to meet after the showcase.

The cast was Léa Des Garets as George/Gabriel, Iniki Mariano as Marie Dorval and Conor Dumbrell, an extraordinary actor who played six different male roles effortlessly with a touch of physical comedy.

Conor Dumbrell as the snappy editor

Marie, played by the elegant Iniki, was George’s biggest cheerleader; she was a young actress who was mesmerised by George’s way of life.

They were quite close as friends, some believed they were lovers. Léa found the relationship between them intriguing, an immense love between them.

The intimate friendship between George and Marie. Photo by Benjamin Graham

She added her flair of a possible romance between them in the play. As the two seemed to share flirty banter and gentle intimacy on stage.

Léa mentions, “What struck me in Marie’s letter was how strong she was, and how George was diminishing herself in a very reverential way towards Marie. George shows her how dependent she was on Marie’s affection and how much that means to her. Marie believed in George’s work, just as much as George believed in Marie’s.”

The play was primarily about Marie hyping up George to come up with her next best work. With her snappy editor, played by Conor, breathing down her neck for fresh material.

Marie suggests that George should write a play and they both come up with a script of a prince named Gabriel, who is actually a girl at birth. The play split into two sections at this point, Léa created a cutaway to show the world of Gabriel. She takes on Gabriel’s role alongside Conor who shifts roles amongst Gabriel’s grandfather, cousin and assistant.

Léa as Gabriel and Connor as Gabriel’s supportive cousin. Photo by Benjamin Graham

Gabriel, who’s an heir to the throne was brainwashed by his grandfather to believe that he was a boy. As he was the only child and successor for the inheritance of the family. 

Marie and George had the perfect exchange of ideas for the plot of Gabriel’s character. But George began to use it more as a personal mission to speak her story.

This created conflict in their relationship, as George overlooked Marie’s efforts to revive her career. Marie was to be an actress in the play but her contribution to the script became less important as George overindulged in Gabriel’s story.

Léa explained, “There’s a sense in the play that, George, to me, what I wanted to convey was that we are in George’s head. As they built it together, she found so much freedom.

She finds a platform to explore what she’s able to explore, which is kind of the defying of binary theory when it comes to gender. And I think she doesn’t realise how much she has sidelined Marie until every time Maria is the one who brings her back to reality.”

The complexities of Marie and George’s relationship really stood out in their final dialogues. After George sends in her work and forgets to sign Marie’s contract for her future, the faith of their relationship begins to tremble.

The stunning Inika Mariano as Marie Dorval. Photo by Benjamin Graham

Marie celebrates a positive response received by the editor for George’s script, but George finds the response ignorant. The editor refers to her works as “little lady stories” which questioned George’s integrity as a writer. 

While Marie thought their work was marvellous, George felt her work was reduced to the perception of women that most men carried in that generation.

George and Marie reading a letter from the snappy editor. Photo by Benjamin Graham

Marie then delivers a powerful dialogue, claiming that George who wears trousers and jackets doesn’t make her better than other women. And that there is nothing wrong to be recognised as a lady, as she is one.

But George travelled a path where she only wanted to be seen as a writer and not a gender. And that she never meant to belittle anyone, but to do justice to her soul’s purpose and desires.

Léa pointed out that it was at this stage that their love languages struggled to meet, that it truly was a story of desire, love and purpose.

The entire team have done an exceptional job to merge conversations from the past and conversations we have today around gender fluidity.

In my conversation with Léa, we discussed how we wish we didn’t have to still talk about these things. And that it’s no one’s business how one wishes to express themselves.

And then she beautifully envisioned how she wishes the audience to perceive her and her team’s work with me.

As she passionately said, “I want people to be daring to be themselves, to be authentic, daring to deconstruct society’s expectations. For them to look inward, to look outward. To be outside of a lane that’s been built. I’ve embraced my queerness in the past few years and you can live queerly in so many ways. It doesn’t have to reflect your sexuality or the way you envisage your gender.

It’s to treat other people’s voices with compassion, their ways of being in the world and not just impose what I think is right onto them. And let fear dictate how I interact with others. And I hope they can see that through Marie and George that they were trying their best to live out of restrictions, just as we all are.”

The love George and Marie shared. Photo by Benjamin Graham

Léa, Iniki and Conor and the whole team have extraordinary talent that deserves higher accolades.

The writing, the direction, the acting and the bond they share amongst themselves radiates on stage as a group of revolutionaries.

Their showcase took place at West End’s Criterion Theatre in London on the 17th of November. They were supported by the Criterion New Writing Programme, handled by Greg Mosse and host Felix Mosse.

They will be performing a 3-week run of George and other shows at the Omnibus Theatre next year in London, dates to be confirmed.

CLICK HERE to find out more about George and for more information on their 2024 shows.

You definitely want to keep an eye out for this masterpiece. It’s acting at its finest and writing that moves you and makes you think.

About the author

Adishri Chengappa

Writer and Journalist

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