‘The characters are bubbling with emotion’: Hannah Bristow stars in A Passion Play as part of the Written on the Waves project

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Emma Clarendon chatted to the actress about starring in A Passion Play as part of 45North and Ellie Keel Productions’ Written on the Waves project.

Hi Hannah, could you tell me what A Passion Play is about?
It’s a play about two teenage girls in Ireland involved in their local parish’s Passion Play retelling the resurrection story at Easter in 2015, at the time of the Irish gay marriage referendum. One is a devote Catholic; the other is English, has only recently moved to Cork and has only come along because she misses her drama club in London. Their respective parents are always late to pick them up after rehearsal and they are always the last two left behind in the church car park at the end. So they are forced into awkward conversation about their costumes, who’ll play Jesus and how they don’t acknowledge each other in maths class. They begin to fall for each other. Queer teenage heartache, soul searching and literal drama ensues.

What made you want to be involved with bringing this play to life?
I think what makes Margaret Perry’s work so very good is the way she pours her heart into her writing. This play is full of heart; its burgeoning with the stuff. I read an early stage draft of it a few months ago and loved it. The characters are bubbling with emotion and I think they just sort of leap off the page. I thought it was a great play then and a few months later when it was adapted for radio and I was offered the part, I leapt at the chance.

It must have been challenging to record during lockdown – how did you go about doing it?
It was a very odd experience, yes! We recorded everything remotely, not least because of Covid, but also because Nicola was back at home with her family in Ireland, and I was still where I had been working when lockdown fell, in Stratford-upon-Avon. I was sat inside a wardrobe in amongst my clothes with just my computer and microphone for the three days. So we were miles apart, which makes things like flirting a little tricky. We also used some recording software that meant we couldn’t see each other at all as we recorded. We were recording live, but we only had each other’s voices to respond to. Surprisingly though I think it actually made everything even more intimate, like it was really just the two of us there surrounded by duvets, on a sort of very intense phone call.

We also had to record ourselves singing together at one point, and, as anyone who has tried to collaborate musically over the internet will tell you, the slight delay means it’s practically impossible. So that was tricky. But our sound tech Annie Fletcher and director Jessica Lazar managed everything with mastery and was all had a great time along the way. It was great too to have an experience that was so very 2020.

Could you tell me more about the character that you play?
I play a young English girl called Sam who has recently moved to Ireland with her father. I think in lots of ways she is hard to encapsulate in a few sentences, just like a real person: Margaret has written someone who is slightly too twisty and complicated to be easily summed up. Sam is still young and working out who she is. She is a teenager struggling to cope with big sadnesses from outside and inside herself, and also is someone who is working extremely hard to run towards happiness in life, and stumbling and messing up along the way. She is raw and brave and brilliant in a way I wish I had been as a teenager. She is also fantastically resilient and disregarding of the prejudices of the world around her in a way I still aspire to be.

How has it been working with Nicola Coughlan? It was great to get a chance to work with Nicola. She is such a detailed actor and demands really high standards of herself, and that is always great to work with and bounce off. It was an odd experience too though, not having the chance to be in a room with her. As Annie Fletcher pointed out as we rapped, the normal “Pub anyone?”, wasn’t possible, so that socialising, round-off and bonding,
which is a HUGE part of making work, just didn’t happen. It was great to work with Nicola though and it is always fun to act with someone whose work you are familiar with from the television.

What are you missing the most about live theatre? It’s hard, because, without sounding too pretentious, the great thing about acting is being able to stand in a room and look someone in the eyes and say some words, and respond to them as you do it. In lots of ways I think that description can also be applied to lots of the really important stuff in life too. I think it really a very simple and fundamental human thing. And all of that just isn’t possible
in lockdown. I think this time has really made us look at that full in the face see how vital interpersonal interaction is to us as individuals and a society, and how live theatre really cuts to the root of that. So I miss it. I miss it terribly. I miss the chats over the boiling kettle at tea break, I miss
call sheets, I miss the half, I miss the five, I miss the walk to the tube at the end of the day, I miss all the tiny liminal chats at warm up or in dressing rooms which are all the bonding, thinking and creating that goes on off-, as well as onstage; I miss running to make a show as an audience
member, I miss being in a space with lots of people, mostly strangers, and sharing an experience together, whether I am delivering it or experiencing it, I miss seeing the fire in a performers eyes and the rush of adrenalin in their cheeks. I miss feeling that. I miss it. I miss it all. Recording in lockdown
was a brilliant thing, strangely intimate, cocooned and quiet. But the time where it is safe enough for live theatre to happen again, for us to stand in big rooms with lots of people, look at each other and shout again, can’t come soon enough for me. As Lynette Linton Tweeted recently “Theatre. There’s NOTHING like it.” I couldn’t have put it better.

How would you sum up A Passion Play? It’s Irish, it’s funny, it’s 30 minutes long and its queer. It’s about being young and working out what is
important to you in the world. It’s about discovering yourself and feeling what that’s like as it settles in your body and the way it challenges how you saw things before. It’s about people finding each other in the mess of ordinary life and working out how to keep holding tight even when things are hard. It a brilliant play for this moment right now: and any other time too. I think it’s fab. I hope you will too.

By Emma Clarendon

To find out more about Written on the Waves visit: https://www.forty-fivenorth.com/writtenonthewaves

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Emma Clarendon
Emma Clarendon studied drama through A-Level before deciding she was much better suited to writing about theatre than appearing onstage. She’s written for a number of online publications ever since, including The News Hub and Art Info. Emma set up her own blog, Love London Love Culture, in April 2015 and tweets at LoveLDNLoveCul.
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Emma Clarendon on FacebookEmma Clarendon on InstagramEmma Clarendon on RssEmma Clarendon on Twitter
Emma Clarendon
Emma Clarendon studied drama through A-Level before deciding she was much better suited to writing about theatre than appearing onstage. She’s written for a number of online publications ever since, including The News Hub and Art Info. Emma set up her own blog, Love London Love Culture, in April 2015 and tweets at LoveLDNLoveCul.

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