Hannah Bristow stars alongside Nicola Coughlan in Margaret Perry’s A Passion Play as part of the brand-new audio project – Written on the Waves.
A Passion Play is directed by Jessica Lazar and will be available from 2nd November 2020.
It can be accessed via www.forty-fivenorth.com/writtenonthewaves
You’re starring in A Passion Play, part of the audio play series Written on the Waves, what can you tell us about the play?
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 devout 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 was it about emerging writer Margaret Perry’s work that made you keen to be a part of this project?
I first encountered Margaret’s work in 2019 when I saw her production of Collapsible at the Vault festival. I then went back to see it again a few months later when it was in Edinburgh. I think what makes Margaret’s work so distinctive and so very good is the way in which she pours her heart into her writing. This play is full of heart; its burgeoning with the stuff. The characters are bubbling with emotion and I think they just sort of leap off the page. It’s also a very clever play that plays with allegory and echoes the stories of the bible to explore love and betrayal and miracles. It’s brilliant stuff. When I was offered the role, I took it.
Tell us about your character, what do you like and dislike most about them?
Sam is an incredible young person. The type of young person I wish I had been. She is beautifully open and gloriously in the moment in a way that must make life so raw and wonderful to live. She also seems to have a clarity, a self-knowledge and a disregard for the prejudices of the world which I know I certainly did not have as a teenager, and which I try to have more as an adult. She is also wonderfully strong and resilient in the face of sadness’s from outside and inside herself and tries her utmost to run towards happiness in life, even if that means stumbling and messing up along the way. She is the type of person I want to be when I grow up.
Dislike?… hmm… well Sam really likes hockey. And I really hated hockey at school. I was bookish and unsporty and really not very good at it, much more like Birdie, Nicola Coughlan’s character. I feel like if Sam and I had met at school we wouldn’t have gotten on very easily, to begin with, even if we did eventually. Maybe a bit like the characters in the play.
What’s it been like working on an audio play, is the process different to a staged piece?
Under normal circumstances working on a radio play is slightly different, but mostly similar to working in theatre. They are both aural mediums predominantly, and text-based. Normally too, the process of recording is very similar to ordinary acting: you would be in the recording studio with the rest of the cast, looking into their eyes and responding to them as you speak to them, very like in a piece of theatre. The main difference is usually that you just don’t have to learn the lines or project to the upper circle. I guess too you have to be conscious of mic technique, and the fact that words and pauses take on a different meaning without the safety blanket of visuals to fall back on. But mostly, they are very similar. Recording this is lockdown was very different, though.
You’re starring alongside Nicola Coughlan, what challenges did you both face in making A Passion Play during lockdown?
Well, it was a slightly 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 in the UK recording from a cupboard in Stratford-Upon-Avon because that is where I had been working when the lockdown fell. So, we were miles apart, and we certainly weren’t looking into each other’s eyes 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 however I think it worked very well for the piece, it actually made everything even more intimate, like it was really just the two of us there amongst the duvets on a sort of very intense phone call.
There were lots of the other slaps-stick issues you might expect too: a food delivery, some drilling, the birds singing too loudly outside the window – the usual stuff. 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 delay makes it practically impossible. But our sound tech Annie Fletcher and director Jessica Lazar managed everything with mastery and we overcame the issues and had a great time along the way.
What would you say to anyone thinking of listening to A Passion Play?
This is something I feel about both “A Passion Play” and the rest of the glorious “Written on the Waves” season 45North and Ellie Keel Productions have put together. I have been missing theatre terribly. I love it, so much, and for me, listening to these plays has filled the aching space in my heart and my timetable which theatre had left behind. If you’ve missed theatre, then have a listen to this play and to the rest, to get a piece of that world back again.
‘A Passion Play’ itself is 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 connecting and communicating, finding each other in the mess of ordinary life and working out how to keep holding tight even when things are hard. It’s queer and it’s very funny. That ticks a lot of my boxes, and if it ticks some of yours too, you should give it a listen. It is a play for this moment right now, and any other time too. I think it’s a brilliant thing. I hope others do too.
A Passion Play starring Hannah Bristow will be available from 2nd November 2020.