Meet Hannah Sowerby, the award-winning Cumbrian writer, performer, and comedian
When she was 15 years old and at Appleby Grammar School, Hannah Sowerby chose Highlights for her week’s work experience.
“I did admin and went to a play in a village hall. It was really nice to do something in the arts.”
This summer, says Hannah, she has come full circle as she prepares to deliver theatre workshops in three Northumberland schools as part of Highlights’ Rural Young Creatives project.
Born in Carlisle and brought up in Appleby and Penrith, Hannah, 26, gained a first class degree in drama and scriptwriting at Northumbria University. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne and has just finished writing a comedy-drama about two call centre workers working for the railways during the train strikes
Hannah considers the full-length, three-hander is one of her best pieces of work: “I’m really proud of it and I really hope I can get it to a stage soon.”
She’s also working on a project based round Newcastle’s seven bridges with writers she met while writing and performing sketches for BBC Newcastle and BBC Tees’s radio show It’s Grin Up North.
Conversations are taking place with theatres to enable the bridges project and Hannah’s three-hander to “make the leap from page to stage”.
Hannah has always been a performer: “I used to put on Britain’s Got Talent shows for my Nana and looking back at the videos, it’s embarrassing how much I played up to the camera. But I didn’t know until I was 16 that I wanted to be a writer.”
She went on to win the Hunter Davies Award for Young Writers and a creative writing competition run by the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald and was runner-up in the Anne Pierson Award for Young Writers.
Hannah’s play Bridges Apart, set in Cumbria during Storm Desmond, was performed at the 2016 Kendal Yarns Festival of New Plays and was one of six Best of the Fest plays presented by Kendal Community Theatre at Staveley Roundhouse the following year.
Bridges Apart was among seven short plays, chosen from more than 1,000, which ran at the Union Theatre in London for a week in 2019 and it was also performed at Northern Stage in Newcastle.
Hannah has had four plays performed at Southwark Playhouse in London, she wrote, directed and performed Just A Quick One in a 16-night run at the Edinburgh Fringe and is in the comedy duo Sowersprouts.
As a member of The Writing Squad, a development programme for young writers, Hannah took the lead in the comedy short, Swipe Wrong, a mockumentary filmed over a single weekend. “The five of us were told how to use a camera but there was no sit-down writing, just a lot of improvisation. It was one of my favourite things ever.”
During lockdown, Hannah produced six comedy monologues, Sex, Gardening And Contact Lenses for viewing on her YouTube and in 2021 her Arts Council-funded one-woman show 10 Things To Do In A Small Cumbrian Town ran for three weeks at the Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle.
A reviewer for The Guardian newspaper described Hannah’s performance as “delightfully deadpan” with something of the irony of a young Victoria Wood.
Hannah cites Victoria as one of many influences that include Alan Bennett, Catherine Tate, Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge, The League of Gentlemen and The Fast Show. “I’m a massive comedy nerd and growing up I used to watch the same episodes hundreds of times, meaning that I understood the rules of comedy without having to learn them.”
Asked about the pathos apparent in her work, Hannah says that much of her writing ends up bitter sweet. “There’s a line between comedy and tragedy and a lot of interesting comedy sits on that line.”
During many years with Penrith Players, Hannah helped with the Junior Players and she led workshops in the north east of England last year.
At the end of this month [June] she will lead workshops for Highlights at The Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick and at Shilbottle and Seahouses primary schools: “I’ve done so many workshops myself that I have quite a lot to teach.” The tone has to be right for the age group, says Hannah. “When you are 15, you don’t want to be talked down to. There are things I learned at university which there is no reason why they shouldn’t understand.”
Article by Mary Ingham, writer/journalist and Highlights’ Vice Chair, Board of Trustees