A little chat with Hannah Norris

Award winning Australian playwright David Williamson’s Let the Sunshine is part Romeo and Juliet, part Meet the Parents.

Retired, left-wing radicals Toby and Ros flee scandal in Sydney by escaping to the warmer climes of Noosa. There, they meet Natasha and Ron – a shallow socialite and her brash property developer husband. When their children find love together, the pitter patter of tiny feet brings on the clashing of egos.


Hannah Norris plays Emma in the current touring production.


Interviewer: Meredith Mclean


Hannah Norris, Actress

Hannah Norris. Image by Julian Dolman.

In some comedic productions I’ve seen, the actors tend to lose genuine emotion in the folly. How did you keep intact the emotions that theatre demands without putting a damper on the light heartedness of the script?

By never losing sight of what the character wants. There are certainly gags and funny lines in Williamson’s script, and we’ve learned through our audiences that there are rhythms and deliveries of these lines that get the best response from the audience. But that technique lies beneath the playing of the scene between the characters. I believe that we mustn’t ask for the laugh or try to be funny for the audience, but commit 100% to what the character wants – consider our needs as important as life and death and with the tone & text of the piece there are times where this will be funny.

I’ve also really tried to make my characters journey arc as big as possible – that where I begin, what Emma is like and where she ends up is as different as it can be within the confines of the script and story. Emma suppresses most of her emotions to start with so by the end when she does reveal her vulnerability, if I’ve really held onto them and pushed them down to start off (in line with the character), there’s more to release once I finally get to that point in the play.

Was this a production that grew organically with each rehearsal or did Denis Moore have a concrete vision already planned for you?

Once there are actors, human beings, playing characters in a scene – if you deny the real interaction that occurs once we start working together with the text then I think you’re denying all truth that can come from it. So the scenes definitely grew organically because we worked together on them. Additionally, our playing space is quite confined and the set doesn’t change for the entirety of the piece, so Denis at times had to clean up our blocking, entrances & exits, but he also helped direct us as to the rhythms of the script and the textures and levels different scenes needed to be played at to help manifest the drama and comedy of the piece.

How does your role put a pulse into the play? 

I don’t enter until 1/3 of the way through the first act. Prior to my entrance, my character has been spoken about by my parents, and some of my traits and recent actions described through their conversation. Ron, my father, says things like, “Me? Interrogate our daughter? That’s like telling a cocker spaniel to go easy on a Rottweiler.” and “That mouth of hers is a lethal weapon.” These kind of clues give the audience an idea of what Emma is like. My aim in performance is to be all that and more when I first step foot on stage – to fulfil their most extreme imaginings of who Emma is.

There is repeated mention of social conscience and satire underlying the play. What is the social message that you, as an actor, want to display for the audience?

Through Emma, I want to highlight that working 80hours a week, ignoring your friends and family, and covering any vulnerabilities with an armour of rudeness and aggression is not a good, healthy or sustainable way to live.

The play in its fullness has more to say about maintaining hope for the world, and I believe also about the importance of family.

Does coming to work each day mean spending a day with friends or was it strictly business amongst the cast?

We get along really well. Tonight is our 62nd performance and we’ve been touring for over 3 months, and we’re all still enjoying performing and each other’s company. But we are all professionals so there is understanding when people just want to spend time alone on our days off, but we also socialise quite a lot, going on day trips and eating and drinking together. I’m having heaps of fun with everybody on stage and off.

Embodying the characters on stage is always like taking on a different mindset. Is there anything you learnt from your characters that you’d like to take on board with your life outside of the production?

For me, it was more the initial challenge of trying to see the world through Emma’s eyes. We are very different people, on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and our lifestyles, ambitions and values are very different. So in rehearsals, and before in general life, I would try and see things from Emma’s point of view. Like if there was a political argument, I’d imagine what she would argue. I started following Mitt Romney and Rupert Murdoch on Twitter. I tried to read annual reports and business documents online (very difficult!) and engage with her world.

I see how I could be like her if I had gone down a different path with different influences, but there’s not much I’ll be integrating into my own life I don’t think.

Will we see any of you in Noosa in real life, for the upcoming Noosa Longweekend, during which David Williamson will premiere another of his new plays?

Unfortunately no, we won’t be making it to Noosa on this trip – got plenty more stops in Queensland though. With 2 months left of shows, we’ve got more audiences all around the country still to think about and go and tell this story to.

Thanks, Hannah! See Hannah in Let the Sunshine at Gardens Point Theatre on June 15th and 16th at 7:30pm

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