Names Changed For Legal Reasons... But This Is Hannah Harquart.
In-between flapjacks, my 3 month old puppy and cups of tea, myself and Hannah managed (eventually) to get chatting about all things writing, acting and the industry. It only took 2 hours.
23 years old and from Macclesfield, Hannah really started writing in the year between her foundation course, at Rose Bruford, and her degree at Drama Studio London. Tackling monologues at first, she claims her inspiration came from true life stories, including the time she spent as a bartender at Revolution;
H: Everything turns into inspiration right? Like, once you start writing. Everyone you meet. And you have to be careful because, when I speak to people and they tell me really embarrassing stories I'm like... how comfortable are you with that shared with everyone?
A: What if I just... changed your name?
H: But, write about what you know, and most of the stuff I write is begged, borrowed and stolen. Either from my own experiences, or my friends, or my families. I just find, you talk to somebody and there's probably something in there that's universal.
A: Why did you initially start writing? How did that first piece happen?
H: When I was young I used to write skits at school, I was really that kid and the woman who I looked up to, and still really do, is Catherine Tate.
A: Don't you just wanna be her?
H: I used to do the grandma impression all the time! These characters that she created became my little personas at dinner, and my Mum bought me all the scripts of her sketches and I would learn them, like totally obsessed with her. So, from watching The Catherine Tate show every week, I'd be like 'I wanna do that!'
We go on to discuss various inspirations of ours, and as I regale my love for Tracy Beaker, I am presented with this anecdote. You are welcome:
A: I think my original was Dani Harmer. I think it was Tracy Beaker.
H: I pushed her pram once, for her.
A: No way!
H: Yeah, I worked for this company that did In The Night Garden, I did some front of house, and Bing The Bunny ... but Dani Harmer was coming that day with her kid, and she was like 'Hiya!' and I was like ... I'm talking to Tracy Beaker. Tracy Beaker is here with her kid. And I'm gonna push Tracey Beaker's pram over here.
Hannah tells me from there she used to devise mini skits with her friends which took her all the way to A level drama, but stopped the creating during her year at Rose Bruford as acting consumed her and the restriction of having to find other people's work to perform suffocated her. But after a year, she picked up the poetry bug, writing poems in the notes on her phone (the finest art) and somehow ended up in a scratch night, performing her own work. And from there, she didn't stop.
In her first year at Drama Studio London, Hannah and some friends took themselves off to the Edinburgh Free Fringe with a play they wrote, which was an 'immersive comedy about witches'. She claims the process was very 'push and pull' between staying focused, trying different things, finding out what felt weird or what felt great but the most important thing she found was 'we've got to be having a good time' and credits her peers for hammering that home. Describing the festival as a totally inspiring time, she tells me she saw more theatre than she ever had done before and witnessed a community of hard-graft creatives, sharing their work and doing what they wanted to do, on their own terms. Hannah agrees with me when I share a piece of advice I was given in my third year: if you want to work, you will work. It's not easy taking your work to Edinburgh Fringe, but if you are determined to do it, then you will! (Disclaimer, I haven't actually been to Edinburgh Fringe, but I once ended up at Prague Fringe Festival without even realising, so yes, I do know what I'm talking about.)
Before we were united (which should have happened sooner tbh) Hannah was part of last years summer and winter Show Face Festival. She wrote two plays for them, but this experience was the first time someone else was performing her work.
H: It was so freeing. I still do acting, I'll still do acting, but it was so, like, 'oh my god you've just... taken it away, it looks phenomenal, you've made me look better than I am, I'm not worried. I'm not worried about anything. Watching you do this really good job on something that I've wrote is like... great.
Hannah and myself were introduced during preparations for The Silver Lining's Mix 'n' Match event. Hannah had written an incredible monologue (directed by Alice Chambers, performed by Catriona Faint) called 'Leave Me Alone' in which Charlie feels claustrophobic living in a house of 5 students and lets rip on Issy, her closest friend. I go on to gush about how much I loved 'Leave Me Alone', but that's just embarrassing for me to type up really. But she does reveal to me that this piece is part of a larger play she is writing with a friend. So, watch this space!
A: How would you describe your writing?
H: I would describe it... if I was being humble, no I'm joking, I think I'd describe it as, I think it's based in a universal truth. It's very personal, but also very universal. Also, I think it's funny?
A: Yes. It is funny.
H: Oh, good.
Although we've been working on Zoom for the past year, we're both loving meeting new people and networking with a wider range of people than we ever expected.
H: I feel really lucky that I keep meeting more and more friends. I'm a bit annoyed that it's online, but, in a way, you couldn't connect with all these people! I did 7 plays with the International Actors Ensemble online last year, and they're all like from Australia and America, and that just wouldn't have happened! I hope that lockdown has made this industry more accessible.
A: I couldn't agree more, I think people are realising what is possible.
At this point, we somehow manage to get onto a tangent about how we wished we'd have gone out more when we were at drama school. Anyway...
As we talk, we realise just how similar our approaches are (must be a Northern thing) and how, recently, we have seen a high dosage of imposter syndrome among new writers/actors. So, if you are guilty as charged, see below for top quality advice;
H: You just start calling yourself something, and people are gonna believe it.
A: So many people say 'oh, well I wouldn't class myself as a writer' and I'm like... WHY NOT?!
H: No one's gonna tell you that you're not.
A: Or if people say 'I haven't been writing for very long! I haven't been writing for very long!' ... you don't need to say that!
H: At some point, you've got to stop saying sorry.
A: You might have never published anything, you might have never performed your work, you might have never got an acting job but you are still an actor, you are still a writer.
H: Literally. And you can only seek that validation from yourself. But is it that weird thing of being a graduate and having to apologise before you've even spoken in the room.
Hannah then tells me she was on a zoom webinar with Charlie Brooker (my, how the other half live, ey?) and her mentor Georgina White agrees when he advises to 'enjoy the little victories, enjoy the small little thing that's going to lead to the next thing because inevitably, it will lead there'. And so, Hannah is trying to get the most out of every single part of the process. I am also going to try.
A: So, what would you say is your favourite thing, and least favourite thing is about the writing process?
H: My favourite thing is when you bounce off someone and then you run with an idea and you can't stop writing it, and then it's finished, and often, that thing that you've written, is pretty good because it's come spur of the moment. My least favourite thing is when that happens in longer form, and then you're like 'this is shit, this is so shit I can't finish this! I can't finish this, this is shit now!' and you're like no it's not, because you had this initial inspiration, so just keep going. I think it's the imposter syndrome again. It just creeps in on you and bites you.
For me, it's the second draft. The editing. The reviewing. I don't want to change it, I don't want to delete it, I've just written it! But we've all got to let some shit go sometimes haven't we?
Now, I love asking tricky questions, and Hannah was no exception. When I asked her who she compares her work to, I see the name immediately in her eyes, but not one to be cocky, she dodges around the answer for a while, until finally;
H: I feel like, the people you are inspired by, and you care about (and the work you care about), obviously you're bound to steal a certain amount, right? And I would never compare myself to her on a normal basis, and I- I will probably cringe at this in 10 years- but I adore the way... Phoebe Waller-Bridge-
A: I knew you were gonna say it and I was gonna say the exact same thing.
H: It would be a lie to say you're not influenced by her. She's such a legend. It would be silly to say I'm not influenced by her, but I couldn't compare myself to her.
A: You can't ignore her!
H: But you also can't ignore people like Michaela Coel either, like Chewing Gum!
Right, if you like Fleabag, you like I May Destroy You, but haven't watched Chewing Gum then stop everything and watch it now. It's incredible. PWB was not the first to break the fourth wall, we must remember.
Inspirations are one of the reasons we feel so alive. Myself and Hannah share many, Dawn French, Miranda Hart and the others named above. So if you have someone you look up to, don't forget why you love them so much. Keep returning back to it and know that they have paved the way so that you can pave for the future.
It was a real treat to talk to Hannah, by the end it actually felt a bit like the best therapy session ever, so thank you for talking with me! You can keep up with all her writing, acting and general life via her Instagram @hannahharquart . Thanks for reading, see you next time!