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  • Writer's pictureAugust Sorenson

The Academy Abroad: A Conversation with Hannah Attfield

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Hannah Attfield (‘20) has been working tirelessly on a solo show about to open in the UK, alongside fellow playwright and director Ryan Smith. The show, called “a standout solo show – perfect” by Broadway World, tells the unlikely story of a sex worker turned actress who was the mistress of a King.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Your name came across our desk because of the show you’re working on at the moment. Tell me about this.

I'm doing a one-woman show called Pretty, Witty Nell, a 50-minute piece, all in iambic pentameter. It’s about the life of Nell Gwyn, one of the first English actresses to work on the stage, who started her life as a sex worker before becoming an actress. Back in those days, sex workers could be sort of upgraded to actresses. This show is a sort of renaissance Fleabag, and it’s an incredible life she had, being an actress and a mistress to King Charles II. It’s a comedy to start off with, with a lot of tragedy involved in the whole piece. I sell it as, “If you love Shakespeare, perfect. If you don’t, even better.”

[Laughs] That’s a fantastic tagline. Are you a bit of a Shakespeare fiend?

I love Shakespeare. I absolutely love it. My director and playwright of the show has a company, Rogue Shakespeare, that does a lot of plays like this, in this style. It’s almost like a standalone genre, with all the comedy and tongue-in-cheek humor. I just love that, and Shakespeare had a certain sense of that.

Tell me about the process of creating this.

The playwright, Ryan Smith, is a real modern “Bard.” The bulk of the work has been learning 650 lines, getting that all done, and discovering the rest as I go. What I’ve discovered is how much of me is in her, that we’re almost in sync. It’s an honor to do a show about someone’s life, you have to revere and respect it, and getting into it, becoming her, I’ve discovered so many similarities between me and her.

Changing gears just a bit, what are some lessons you learned at The Academy that you’ve kept with you?

I was a winter kid, shout out to all the winter kids who started in New York. A lot of the lessons I learned, I think I didn't really fully appreciate until I came out into the wider world and started thinking, “Oh, actually, it makes so much sense. Yep, my teachers were totally right.” Of course, they did at the time, I had some incredible tutors there, but when you start applying it, when you're out in the field, you realize how right they were.

There also wasn’t a sense of needing to fit into a certain “mold” of what an actor is. I am an actor, exactly as I need to be. No airs or graces, just bring your full, true self.

And your advice for younger artists?

[Laughs] Accept rejection. Rejection is protection. It’s so tough, but I really find that rejection protects me from something that wasn’t meant for me…the right thing will come along. You have to keep the faith that you are exactly where you need to be. There will be moments where you think you can’t do it, but as long as you can pick yourself back up, then things will happen.

Your inspiration, what is it that keeps you doing this work?

I suppose it’s too late for me to become a doctor. [Laughs] I’m very fortunate to have a really supportive network of friends and family. My parents have been my number one fans…they humble me and keep me going. I don’t think I’d be here without them.

Not making acting my entire world has helped me, too. I do a lot of hikes and exercise and take a real break. It’s easy to get bogged down with this industry, but to be able to just put it to one side and recharge and do other things has helped me. A lot of my friends are musicians, and it’s great to interact with them and see another creative outlet.

Any more projects to share with us, and how might people get in touch with you or find out more about you?

Right now, things are quite busy. My show goes up on the 28th of September, and tickets can be found online. It’s a smaller venue, so tickets go pretty fast. After that, I’m hoping for more venues around the UK. Also Fringe Festivals, the next up is in San Diego, and I’m crossing my fingers about that one.

Hannah, it’s been so nice chatting with you. Knock ‘em dead on the 28th and keep us posted!

Thank you, August. Take care and let’s do this again sometime.

Hannah Attfield can be reached online through her website.


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