When you’re writing something to be performed by people, you can’t get too married to what characters look like. Yes, I have pretty strong mental images of Mrs. Hawking and Mary, inspired by my lovely friends and models Frances Kimpel and Charlotte Oswald, but when you need to cast people you have to be open to the person who can give the best performance in the role, not necessarily the one who most closely resembles your image of it. Still, I can’t help but picture what these characters look in my head.
Drama is a visual medium; what the audience sees can do as much to tell the story as the words the characters speak. So it’s very possible that what the characters look like could influence that storytelling. I imagine Nathaniel, for example, to be a tall, boyishly handsome man in his late twenties with a swimmer’s build and Irish-setter-red hair. And it just so happens that Nathaniel’s appearance, if not those imagined details specifically, has had an explicit effect on the plot. In Vivat Regina, Mrs. Hawking tells him that it’s hard for her to learn to let down her guard with someone who looks so much like the Colonel, the man from whom she spent years hiding everything that was important to her.
Mostly the discomfort of that would have to be informed. You might have some ability to actually depict it by what you chose to have as the portrait of the Colonel over the mantelpiece, but you’d mostly have to take Mrs. Hawking’s word for it that the resemblance existed. That means the impact, the unsettlement, she feels from it is difficult to translate to the audience’s perception. This kind of bothered me, as it’s always better to make the audience feel the emotions rather then just tell them about them. But then it occurred to me that there’s a theatrical way to make the audience see what Mrs. Hawking sees– eventually, at any rate.
In the the fourth piece I have planned, I want to tell Mrs. Hawking’s origin story, how she came to be the person she is today, and part of that is telling how she came to meet and marry the Colonel. This would require depicting Reginald Hawking as a young man. I plan on having flashbacks to that time juxtaposed to a case our heroes were working on in the present day, which of course would involve Nathaniel. My brainwave was that in that play, you could actually double-cast the two characters to be played by the same actor.
Not only would that signal the physical resemblance, I feel like there would be something truly uncomfortable for the audience to see the man they’re accustomed to seeing as her nephew pursuing her in the romantic manner that her eventual husband does. The weirdness for the audience would be caused by Reginald’s resemblance to Nathaniel, rather than how it is vice versa for Mrs. Hawking, probably because of how weird it would be to see a man who looks like that falling in love with her like Reginald does. But I think it would manage to convey the same feeling Victoria experiences, even if the reason for it is different. I think causing that discomfort would be extremely effective in conveying how difficult that relationship was for her, which would utilize the tools of theater to deliver a more visceral audience experience.