Exclusive interview: we get to know Hannah Ellis Ryan
by Chloe McLaughlin
She shot onto our screens in September 2018 as one of Coronation Street’s most controversial baddies, Hannah Gilmore, but Manchester based Australian actress, Hannah Ellis Ryan isn’t just a superb actress. She’s also a producer and theatre manager and is passionate about putting Manchester’s theatre scene on the map. From being a long-lost McDonald (or at least pretending to be – poor Liz) to creating some of the best work on the Manchester Independent Theatre scene, we get to know the real Hannah… who you’ll be pleased to hear is nothing like her character.
Hannah is fresh off the Coronation Street set when we meet up and I wondered how she’d found her first ever ‘telly job’?
“It was really, really great. I’d never been on TV ever so it felt like to go from zero to hundred! Everyone is so lovely – I couldn’t say enough good things about everyone there, I feel very lucky. On my first day there, Charlie Lawson (Jim McDonald) said ‘so it’s your first TV job huh?’ and I said ‘yes, it’s my first ever one’ and he said ‘darling if you can do this, you can do anything’ because the environment is very fast. You’ve just got to be there, know your stuff and be ready to go.”
Hannah adds: “It was good for me with a theatre background as I couldn’t over-think things too much. I had to just trust my instincts.”
The storyline Hannah was embroiled in was one of the most controversial storylines of the year when Jim McDonald and Hannah Gilmore attempted to con Liz by having Hannah pose as their supposedly dead daughter, Katie. Unsurprisingly the storyline had a mixed response with many people not warming to the storyline, something Hannah understands completely:
“I completely understand as many people said ‘I lost a daughter once’ and a lot of people identified with the bereavement side of it.” Hannah explains, “I was hoping once people knew it was a con that might ease up but what I find really interesting is something my Mum brought up. People said ‘this is so unbelievable’ which is fair, I get that it was a stretch, but people do get conned in real life and people do con and in the same group of storylines people thought it was more believable that someone would say ‘I’m going to marry my girlfriend tomorrow, I’m not going to tell her about it and spring a wedding on her’ and then
the father of Tracy is going to say ‘I’m not going to my daughter’s wedding anymore – I’m going to go this one instead!’
“I love watching all the episodes but I thought it was funny people so passionately believed this was an unbelievable story but I think actually people would be shocked at how often people get conned. I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts!”
But while Hannah is under no illusion to how people feel about the storylines she still admits to feeling extremely grateful and says Coronation Street has changed her life.
“When you want to be an actor it’s a very difficult life, no exaggeration, it’s really, really hard. You are trying to stand out, be noticed, get that audition, get that job because it’s what you love doing but you can only do it if someone gives you permission or a job. It’s not like playing an instrument where you can just do it for hours on your own so hopefully this gives me that little bit of an edge to get into auditions you wouldn’t otherwise.”
Away from the soapbox, Hannah is a prominent face in Manchester’s theatre scene. She’s not only an actress but a producer, manager of Hope Mill Theatre in Ancoats, co-runs her own theatre company Play With Fire Productions and runs a rehearsal studio – she’s a busy lady but Hannah doesn’t mind:
“It’s great. The idea of sitting and doing the same thing every day? I can’t get my head around it. I don’t know how people do it. I love to have a lot of things going on and delegation is the name of the game! You can do as much as you want as long as you have great people around you and I’m very lucky to have that.”
Hannah, who originally hails from Australia, moved to Manchester seven years ago after spending three months in New York with her best friend planning her life – but why did she choose Manchester over London?
“It sounds really cheesy but we did just sit and plan our lives!” Hannah laughs, “I spent a lot of time researching the acting industry in England and obviously it was a big choice – London or Manchester? But I know in my heart that if I went to London and was in this ‘dog eat dog
world’ I could imagine myself crumbling and not being my best and not having that confidence. Manchester seemed to have a much warmer community side – that’s what I need. Manchester made sense and I’m so happy I chose it!”
Manchester made sense and I’m so happy I chose it!
Hannah has fallen in love with the city – largely because of its endless opportunity.
“I strongly believe that in Manchester you can do whatever you want. There’s lots of great stuff happening but there’s a lot of exciting gaps to be filled so I really think if someone has enough drive and ambition they can just do what they want and it’s not like that everywhere.” Hannah smiles, “You can do as much as you want in London and still get the door slammed in your face!”
As a producer and through her work with Play With Fire, Hannah has revolutionised the Manchester Theatre Scene and admits that she loves enabling people and putting teams
“It’s a passion for wanting to create things. When we started Play With Fire we felt there was a lack of independent theatre that was really pushing and trying to stage work at a studio production level. When we did our first production, Orphans, in 2014 that was a real shift. We built a house in Hope Mill Theatre with our bare hands, literally built it. I’m passionate that you
don’t need loads of money to put on a great show. You don’t need experience. You just have to want to really tell the story brilliantly and be prepared to give a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”
With many main house theatres hiking ticket prices up and making the theatre an expensive night out and often inaccessible, Hannah’s passion for creating top quality independent theatre could be the answer for theatre lovers who want a regular night at the theatre but without paying the sky-high costs:
“You’ll be really surprised at the enormous quality for much cheaper prices.” Hannah explains, “We had The Pride [on at Hope Mill Theatre] which was a debut play. Tickets were £12 for a
nearly three hour long, first rate, brilliant play with a full set and professional actors.
“Places like Hope Mill are completely independent. If you give them your ticket money you are giving a livelihood to the people serving the drinks. The owners will have cleaned the bathroom before it starts. It’s local pride. Big venues have charity funding, status and lots of
different income streams whereas local venues rely on every ticket sale. If you care about theatre you really need to inject that love into your local spaces as they’re doing such great work.
“Like 53Two [another independent Manchester theatre] – the quality of work that goes on there is amazing. The guy pulling your pint is running the venue and I think there’s something
really heart-warming about that. General theatre goers need to be coming into these spaces more and more as it’s their word of mouth that will actually make them long term and sustainable.”
Hannah, who has just completed a tour in the North East of River a play by Jez Butterworth, is now looking forward to 2019 starting off with producing the 2019 tour of The Effect for Play With Fire.
For more information and to see what she gets up to next follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahEllisRyan!