A very Homertonian President

Final year Homerton English student Hannah Shury-Smith has a lot on her plate. There’s Othello, opening today at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, for which she is the producer. There are submissions by new writers to assess for prizes and funding. And there’s the small matter of her degree, and the rapid approach of finals.

“It’s pretty intense!” she acknowledges. “But theatre is a large part of why I applied to Cambridge in the first place.”

As President of the Marlowe Society, which was founded in 1907 and counts Ian McKellan, Derek Jacobi, Emma Thompson, Sam Mendes and Tom Hollander among its alumni, Hannah sees her role as multi-stranded.

“The Marlowe is the drama society with the most links to the professional industry – we take over the Arts Theatre for the Lent term production, and there’s also the Marlowe Showcase, in which eight to ten graduating actors perform in Cambridge and the West End. It’s also a funding body – we fund both new writing and interpretations of classical texts. And I also believe it has a role to play in promoting inclusivity, and providing BME actors with opportunities.”

This last priority reflects Hannah’s own route through the Cambridge drama scene. In her first year she played a minor role in that year’s Marlowe Arts Show production of Romeo and Juliet and joined the society as Membership Secretary. In her second she directed the Marlowe’s annual BME Shakespeare production, and in her third year she became the society's President.

Othello, currently on the A Level English syllabus and therefore familiar to many recent school leavers, naturally encourages BME involvement as it demands a black actor in the lead role.

“Chris [Deane, who plays Othello] hadn’t done as much acting before as some others – it’s good to demonstrate that you don’t have to have done a given amount in order to try out.”

The cast also includes two Homertonians, Georgia Vyvyan and Jamie Bisping (both third year, Education), as well counting another, Hannah Lyall (third year, Human, Social and Political Sciences) on the production team.

Post-Cambridge, Hannah sees herself in theatre, but is relaxed about the direction that ambition might take her.

“The people I respect most in the theatre world are very flexible – I think that’s part of being a creator. My role model is Lynette Linton, the Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre, who came to speak to us last year. The thing she said that really stayed with me is that, in terms of BME representation, ‘change has to come from the top’.”

Othello is at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from Wednesday 29 January until Saturday 1 February.