Written by Sarah Hanly, Directed by Alice Fitzgerald
The one-woman-play shown as part of Collective Rage at the Southwark Playhouse London Theatre has an energetic start. Sarah doesn’t beat around the bush and we are exposed to a strong language and sex jokes straight from the beginning. The show starts as a sort of stand-up comedy and gradually takes more serious form, introducing concepts of mental health issues, eating disorder, rape, sexuality, and grief – not necessarily in that order. This semi-autobiographical performance, written and performed by Sarah is nonetheless, hilarious. Sarah Hanly manages to paint some of the most demanding situations life throws at the protagonist with a good dollop of Irish humour.
Despite the seriousness of the subjects touched upon in Sarah Hanly’s theatre play, it doesn’t have grossness. Sarah portrays a likeable character who is not afraid to laugh at herself. The premise of the performance is Sarah talking to her friend in a diary format. As the play progresses, the entries in the diary become rarer, spaced in time as she distances from her friend Saoirse. The last entry we are privy to is filed following the death of Saoirse from anorexia.
Sarah gives a very physical performance with lots of thrusting, miming and swearing. All her props are carefully thought through and make an appearance from one small waist bag.
The performance is sandwiched between murky miming scenes of Sarah battling with the mental health issues – bulimia and self-harm – painting a grim and very lonely place.
The Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks play is brutally honest in the same way as the semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is. Layer by layer it peels off the façade of teenage bravado and invites us to the often-unseen world of confusion, fear and self-loathing.
“The habit [making self sick] creeps up on me out of nowhere, like a sheep on a country road in Limerick.”
“I love sheep,” you says.
“Yeah, so do I Saoirse. But at the moment I’ve got the whole fucking flock blocking my way”
I am a writer and actress from Dublin, now based in London. I first moved to the UK to pursue Musical Theatre training at Performers College and have recently graduated from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts with a distinction in MA performance (Acting). I was pretty thrilled with the distinction so I love putting that in… we are very polite here in the UK, but we should be proud of our achievements, right?
I wrote and performed my first play Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks during my training at Mountview and since leaving in August 2017, the play has been showcased at The Leicester Square Theatre, Southwark Playhouse, Above the Arts Theatre and Theatre N16.
I was so delighted that the play received five-star reviews and was picked as one of Miro Magazine’s top ten five star shows of theatre in 2017. I never imagined this would happen when I was first working on the play, I didn’t really know what to expect…but I am so pleased it has gone from strength to strength and I’m enjoying the ride and counting my blessings! I think it is down to hard work, a wonderful team of people that have supported and guided me in this process, preparation and a bit of Irish luck!
I recently filmed a part in The Hole In The Ground, a film directed by Lee Cronin, which will be released in Ireland later this year. I loved being a part of this project and getting to work with some brilliant Irish actors.
I am excited to be in the early stages of writing my next play as well as co-writing a TV series with Simon Golding. I will also be shooting a film with Jason Figgis in the near future too!
We know that the play is semi-autobiographic. Tell us how writing the play came about?
I spoke at length with one of my MA tutors, Jacqui Somerville, about what I wanted to create for my MA performance project. After reading a lot of books on autobiography and performance, seeing an autobiographical film by Lisa Gornick and researching solo performance artists – I remember thinking this is so brave, I would love to make a piece about my life, so I decided to get the ball rolling. I held workshops to try and find a way in which I could tell my stories and when I finally plucked up the courage to start free writing I couldn’t really stop.
I used Elaine Aston’s Feminist Theatre Practice: A Handbook as my theoretical framework for the piece and Mike Alfred’s composition process from Then What Happens? Storytelling and Adapting for the Theatre as my practical framework. The play is very different now from when I first performed it as I have been honing the script over the past year.
How does it feel to be enacting and revisiting something so close to your heart?
I love performing Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks. Every time I perform the piece I find something new or interesting to play with. I love playing with the humour and creating a new relationship with each audience. Every audience is different and will need different tactics to get them onside. Once I know that I have the audience with me, I feel totally safe in sharing my personal stories.
The opening monologue is teaching my best friend how to have an orgasm aged thirteen so the audience are thrown in at the deep end I guess! I think the grief element of the show is interesting. It doesn’t get easier to revisit those moments; however, grief is such a universal thing and I know everyone in the audience can relate in someway. I don’t think grief ever goes away and each performance is different as it catches me at different times.
What made you choose Alice Fitzgerald as a director of your own play?
Alice Fitzgerald directed me in The Effect by Lucy Prebble during my training at Mountview. Alice was on the MA Theatre Directing course and I was lucky that our paths crossed on this project. I loved working with Alice and I knew she had something very special as a director. She is intelligent beyond her years and has a wonderful talent in how she tells a story. Alice is a very selfless director and she is totally committed to her work. I trusted her and she was the first person I read the play to in a studio at Mountview. I remember she was so passionate and excited by the piece and it gave me a real boost of confidence with my writing.
I was approached by a producer, Lexi Clare, after the MA performance and she asked me could she produce the show. After this, I asked Alice if she wanted to officially be the director and work on the development of the play and she said yes! It was like a marriage! We have spent the last five months working intensely on the piece and we have a great working relationship. She is also a wonderful friend.
Why people have to see your play?
My play is quite complex and there are many layers to it. Most importantly, it raises awareness about issues that are often considered as tabooed. Eating disorders are sadly extremely common and the play gives an honest depiction of how an eating disorder can destroy lives. The play also deals with themes of female sexuality, male hierarchy, and its psychological implications. I use our feminist approach to storytelling in the hope of making the piece relatable to all genders in the audience. Above all, I hope that sharing my personal stories will create a positive message about life: in relation to showing the importance of taking care of one’s mental health, accepting one’s sexuality and ultimately being a survivor. Oh, and it is quite funny too… I have made it sound very serious, but the piece is embedded with Irish humour and allows the woman to speak loud and proud about all the things that women are told never to speak about: our vaginas, oral sex etc…
What are the future plans, where can people see you perform?
Alice and I are currently expanding our creative team and bringing on board a lighting, sound and set designer, as, up until now, the script has been under development and we have been testing the piece out on different audiences. I think there’s a real knack to solo performances and you can only really master this with a full audience in front of you. We hope to debut the play at a theatre in London for a full run and also take the piece to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August. We hope to announce our official venue shortly. Stay tuned to see where Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks goes next!