Twilight Song at the Park Theatre: ‘Cosy show about tea and cake really packs a punch’
- Credit: Robert Workman Photographer
Call the Midwife star Bryony Hannah has hung up her habit to “get back to theatre”. She tells Bridget Galton why her first role will be at The Park Theatre in Kevin Elyot’s bittersweet Twilight Song
Hampstead playwright Kevin Elyot completed Twilight Song months before his death in 2014.
And as Islington’s King’s Head stages his debut, Coming Clean, The Park premieres his theatrical swansong.
“It’s set in a leafy Victorian North London villa and flits back and forth over half a century,” says Bryony Hannah, who plays Isabella in the bittersweet tale tracing one family’s hidden liaisons from the 60s to the present.
Co-starring Adam Garcia and Paul Higgins, its heartbreaking themes of lives half-lived and gay characters tussling with desire and denial coincide with the 50th anniversary of homosexuality being decriminalised.
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“It should be wonderful that people are now free to love who they want but it shows society is still sick and people are living out these huge contradictions,” says Hannah.
“Kevin also wrote for Poirot so there’s a mystery element where you piece together things about this family, there’s a lovely reveal you won’t expect. He wrote it when he was ill and there’s a sense of him imploring the audience not to waste their lives.”
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Ageing significantly over the play, Isabella has “an epic journey”. “We first meet her newly married and optimistic but see her over the years learn and change. I love the dialogue, it fizzles along so nicely.”
After six years playing nurse turned nun Cynthia Miller, Hannah is feeling a “a bit out of practice” on stage.
“Theatre is what I fell in love with, where I grew my career. I just waited for the right project,” says Hannah who was Olivier nominated for her stage role in The Children’s Hour.
Going from 15 minutes preparation for a Midwife scene to three weeks rehearsal, she says: “TV is just a different joy”.
But Midwife has been a happy experience: “It’s been fantastic I feel so lucky to have such wonderful women to learn from Pam Ferris, Judy Parfitt, Jenny Agutter and Linda Bassett. When Jessica (Raine) Helen (George) and myself started we were relatively new and all learned together. In the first scene my hands were shaking but by the end you still care about it deeply but have a short cut to getting places.” Cynthia experiemced religious zeal, an upsetting sex attack, and of course delivering babies.
“Writers start to write for your voice and develop your character,” she says. “The attack was very upsetting for me to research and to think about getting yourself into that place. But I feel great responsibility to tell stories about things so many women have experienced and can affect their entire lives. It’s a cosy show about midwives, cake and tea but at the same time it really packs a punch. I hope families can speak about things they’ve maybe buried for a long time. I learned such a lot about all matters of women’s health.”
That included helping her prepare for childbirth when she had a baby in 2014.
“I was so much more relaxed I felt I had attended many births already and knew to listen to my midwife, like when not to push. I had absolute faith in their professional knowledge that they would get me through it. Although childbirth is pretty epic, I was very lucky.”
Currently collaborating on a children’s theatre show about Laika the first dog in space, she’s happy doing other work.
“I’ve been in Midwife for six years, it was time to step into other people’s shoes and continue my career.”
Twilight Song runs at The Park Theatre Finsbury Park from July 12-August 12.