Libby Purves in The Times said that she “acts the stars right off the stage”. Charles Spencer in the Telegraph thought her “memorably sly and horrible”. We thought it was time to catch-up with Bryony Hannah, who is currently wowing the West End playing Mary in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour at the Comedy Theatre in London, alongside Keira Knightley, Elisabeth Moss and Ellen Burstyn.
What was your first theatre experience, as an audience member and on stage?
I saw The Ginger Bread Man and apparently wept at the interval because I thought it was over. My first role was as a sugarplum fairy at playschool. I was terribly shy and would only go on if I could wear my sheriff badge and gun holster.
If someone could only see one musical or play before they die, what should it be?
Gosh that’s an impossible question. Um… well I saw Billy Elliot not long ago and I was awash with emotion. The political backdrop gave the story depth and the imaginative dance sequences were superb. They sang because speaking wasn’t enough anymore.
What’s your favourite West End theatre and why?
Being the home of my West End debut in The Children’s Hour, the Comedy Theatre will now always have a special place in my heart. It’s a lovely warm house, not too overwhelming, and the staff are very friendly too.
The press have made much of how you pulled pints five years ago in a pub and are now a star. Is this implicit snobbery on their part or just a good human-interest story?
I guess every story needs an angle, but most young actors have had to do odd jobs in order to fund their careers; I’m not unique in that way. Working at The Hampshire Bowman was a golden time for me and helped shape who I am today.
What dream acting job would make you feel like you’d made it to the very top of your profession?
The lure of being an actor is that there is no “made it” moment. There is always a challenge to be tackled that you’d rather shy away from. To perhaps one day have been in someone’s mind while they were writing a new play though, that truly would be an honour.
Which do you love best? The first day of rehearsals, the first night of the show or the last night?
They are all pretty nerve wracking occasions to be honest! The first night is always magical though. Swapping cards and little presents gives a festive flavour to the evening. Nerves are always rife but if you can harness that energy and play it through your character it can be an exciting ride.
What would be your profession if you hadn’t chosen the theatre and entertainment industry?
I would have liked to have been either a firewoman or a marine biologist. I think the latter probably stems from watching Free Willy as a kid.
Is it important for an actor to like the characters they play, even if they are perceived as malevolent?
I can’t imagine any other way of approaching a role. That doesn’t mean that your character can’t dislike themselves though. With my character in The Children’s Hour, Mary Tilford, for example, all of her actions do cost her. She’s not gleefully scheming; she’s retaliating to perceived dangers. Hopefully that keeps her plausible and human.