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Turning Up The Heat

Three weeks ago, I reviewed a fantastic production of Orphans at Hope Mill Theatre and was blown away by the standard. Leafing through the programme, I saw the aptly named Play With Fire, a new independent theatre company that’s already igniting excitement, going big and sharing the love.

I caught up with the company producers, Hannah Ellis Ryan and Daniel Bradford, to find out what keeps the fire burning.

Tell us about Play with Fire.

The idea for Play With Fire was simmering away in our minds for quite some time, while each of us pursued our acting and producing careers in different countries. Eventually we decided to take the plunge and we haven’t looked back since. Our aim is to make sustainable and groundbreaking theatre in a professional context. We are committed to producing productions that fill the niche that larger scale theatres are unable to due to the need to meet their subscribership. Our main stage shows hope to model something similar to the early days of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

Do you have a core company ethos?

Pushing the limits of independent production in Manchester. We want to give voices to the invisible, tell great stories and dare greatly.

The company has been ten years in the making. Can you give us a brief description of how PWF has arrived where it is today?

We’ve been best friends since meeting in 2006, just before university, where we both studied Acting. After pursing acting for a few years, we both moved into producing. Sharing stories over Skype, we knew our ideal situation would be living in the same city and producing theatre together. Nearly two years ago, Daniel made the decision to move to Manchester so we could build our PWF dream.

What kind of stories or issues do you want to tackle as a company?

We want to represent ‘invisible’ voices, which can mean any marginalised group or individual. It feels difficult to define, because any one of us can experience times in our life when our voice is lost. Truthfully, we don’t discriminate against beautiful, well-written stories, but we want to ensure our plays give a platform to those who need their voice heard and whose stories aren’t being fully addressed.

You’ve just finished a run of your debut production of Lyle Kessler’s Orphans. Why did you decide to take this show as the introduction of your company?

When choosing what would launch PWF, it made sense to have a crack at our favourite piece. Orphans is a timeless piece and feels different from what we have both seen in Manchester thus far. We want to showcase brilliant plays and bring something different to the existing independent theatre scene. This play is also timelessly relevant. The play’s issues surrounding lack of adequate care givers in our society has not changed, and to keep these issues under discussion and at the forefront of our minds has never been more important.

Do you already have your next projects in the pipeline?

We are currently laden with plays and will enjoy poring over them to pick our next project. We always have ideas and favourites, but the key is to make sure we pick something as thought-provoking, well-written and insightful as Orphans. We started out with a truly exceptional piece of writing, so want to make sure that bar stays high.

Between the two of you, the company is quite well travelled and experienced in multinational theatre scenes. How does Manchester compare?

Manchester is a community gem. It’s a fantastic place to be creative, learn, be mentored and inspired. Having lived most of our lives in other countries, Manchester feels very empowering. There is such support from the general public and creative community for theatre and the arts. It’s mind-blowing we were able to nearly sell out our first season as a brand new theatre company. That’s just how supportive Manchester is. The most exciting thing is that it’s only beginning. This industry is going to go from strength to strength and has so much to offer new creative companies.

You say on your website that you want to create relationships with charities. Are there any you are already working with?

We want to connect with community groups who are likely to relate to our current project, but then use that connection to build a lasting relationship. Each production we will create a relationship with a new community or charity who are most closely related to the themes of the play and they will receive ongoing free tickets to our shows. We hope to form a coalition of sorts to bring together many different micro-communities to form one much bigger, wherein all the different groups begin to empathise with each other’s shared struggles. Growing up, both of us were able to get to the theatre regularly and we are grateful for that. We believe in the power of storytelling, an exposure to new stories, characters, themes and ideas that can inspire someone or ignite a thought they didn’t have before. It’s this power we want to share with as many people as possible, particularly those who may not have the opportunity to get there without some inspiration and help.

Not only are you developing your own work and talents, but the company also offers guided warmups to individuals. Tell us about that.

Professionalism and hard work are two core points we hold for ourselves and any individuals we work with. Warming up is a crucial part of a successful actor’s lifestyle. Many actors do not warm up for a rehearsal process or even for a performance season. Most of the time, this is because there is a lot of misinformation and confusion around it. We are passionate about this practice and actually advocate for it in day-to-day life. So the idea to hold weekly guided warmups is a way for us to share something we care about. There is a gap in the market for it and it also creates strong, lasting relationships with the amazing acting community.

If anyone out there is interested in joining our Play With Fire’s guided warmup, please get in touch at

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