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hannah lowther

From Tesco to a pineapple under the sea: Hannah Lowther on women in the West End

TikTok Superstar

Hannah Lowther is one to watch, her meteoric rise to stardom has been like a fairy-tale. Working as a Tesco employee during the COVID-19 lockdown, Hannah, like most of us, decided to do something with her boredom: “I just thought ‘Right, I need to find a way to create some joy and create some connections again with the musical theatre world.”

Hannah began creating content on TikTok, gaining popularity with fellow “stage-y” people. Her popularity led her to the West End, being cast in a 2021 Heathers production at Victoria’s The Other Palace Theatre. Hannah became the first person to have performed as all three of the titular Heathers in one run, she has also recently starred in a film of the musical with production taking place last year. Now, after completing a run with a new musical Millennials, Hannah is starring in a UK and Ireland tour of the popular SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical as ‘Karen’, fresh off of the Great White Way.

No one is more shocked and humbled by her rise to stardom than Hannah Lowther herself: “I’m meeting people at the stage door at SpongeBob and they’re like, ‘I’ve been with you since the Tesco days!’, that’s almost been three years. So, for three years I’ve had this support network of people on the Internet that have been following my career and following my life and it’s amazing to have all that support and to have people who just know you and get you, especially complete strangers.”

West End Women

In 2017, a study by The Stage revealed that only 16% of musicals in the whole of the previous decade were written by women, only 42% of West End casts are generally made up of women and the gender disparity even trickles down to the orchestra pit, with 90% of the performing musicians being male. Hannah reflected on this: “In terms of most of the big playwrights you’ve got Sondheim, Lin Manuel- Miranda, Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I don’t think anyone can name a female writer off the top of their head.”

She described her director in Heathers saying: “I don’t want to speak on her behalf, but I know she was often the only woman in a room full of men and it’s sad to think that someone you really look up to feels like that.” Hannah discussed some new musicals that were gaining popularity, including the one that put her on the map, Heathers. Musicals like Heathers, Waitress, SIX, Dreamgirls and Legally Blonde are steadily gaining popularity in the West End and star powerhouse female protagonists. When asked if she would like to star in an all-female cast or a show written by a woman, she said that she would “give [her] left arm” for a chance to be a part of a female driven production. She also loves to support her fellow female musical theatre colleagues and friends: “I went to the Oliviers [awards] this year and every time there was a female that had been nominated, I was kind of really rooting for them because they were mostly the only female name on the list, especially categories for sound engineers and lighting designers”.

While the statistics don’t lie, Hannah reflected on her days at drama school: “I think the industry is kind of dominated by men, but in terms of how many graduates are men, there’s a lot less in my opinion. In my drama school class there was about 40 girls and 10 boys.”

This disparity, especially at graduate level could be attributed to traditional gender roles, particularly with young boys being bullied for enjoying something that is traditionally seen as quite ‘girly’, Hannah believes this could be one of the causes: “It makes me sad, honestly. You know, even in my school, there were boys that wanted to do the dancing and the acting and not the football or stuff like that, and they were absolutely ripped to shreds for it. And I’m like “what, are we living in the 1800s or something? Like is Henry the Eighth still about somewhere?”

@hannahlowther

For those of you asking how my costume works🤘🏼 #thespongebobmusical

♬ original sound – Hannah Lowther

Breaking The Mould

While Hannah Lowther is loving her life as a performer, she dreams of one day being part of a “girl power” show like SIX but says the life of a performer is quite an unreliable one: “It’s so weird with this industry because you start a job like I’ve only really just started SpongeBob. Straight away everyone’s like, what’s next for you? And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I just got here’,”

For Musical Theatre which is celebrated for its diversity and acceptance for people who are different, the gender disparity seems quite surprising in the industry. However, the tide is slowly turning, only very recently did Alex Newell become the first non-binary actor to win a Tony Award.  Hannah loves performing but especially will be looking forward to seeing more female-led productions. “At the end of the day, a lot of creative teams behind shows are normally male dominated, which seems a bit fishy to me, and not just because we’re under the sea with SpongeBob!”