In Memoriam: Francesca Hanley

7 June 2017


Francesca was a passionate advocate of the work of Theatre Centre, first having performed as a musician in a nationwide tour in Nona Shepphard’s groundbreaking adaptation of The Secret Garden and then bringing her prodigious musical skills to help develop new plays.

Throughout her career she championed high-quality work with and for young people, both by teaching and mentoring, and by performing in shows created for young audiences. A brilliant flautist, she studied at Guildhall and the Royal Academy and played in ensembles and as a soloist all over the UK, specialising in contemporary music.

Fran inspired countless young people with her work as Head of Woodwind at the Centre for Young Musicians, kick-starting many a career and encouraging the young to see music as an integral part of their lives. Always deeply committed to equal opportunities and the rights of artists, she dedicated the latter part of her career to working with the Musicians Union.

I first met Fran when she helped to evolve Brendan Murray’s beautiful play How High is Up? for Theatre Centre.  It was then that Fran also first met Bernadette O’Brien, who was to be her future life partner and at that time was an Associate Artist with the company, and we later rejoiced that Theatre Centre had brought these two wonderful artists together. Thomas Kell, also then at Theatre Centre, reflected: ‘Fran and Bernadette were an island of sense, integrity, and true creativity’.

At those workshops Fran delighted classes of three to five year olds when she taught them the joyful ‘name’ song, ‘Kelele Kelele Awoh Awoh Kelele, My name’s Fran and this is Ros’. I have sung that song time and again with people aged from five to fifty, and all over the world, inspired by Fran’s radiant delivery and her ability to engage immediately with a circle of strangers, joined together by the enchanting melody.

A compelling musician, the Glasgow Herald said of Fran:

‘I could listen to her all night. She gave remarkable assured performances of a wide range of music’.

And I will never forget seeing her hold the whole of a packed Sadler’s Wells in the palm of her hand as she played an exquisite solo for Ballet Rambert in Ghost Dances. You could have heard a pin drop.

Always positive and optimistic, Fran lit up our lives with her intellectual curiosity, creative thinking and golden talents.

There will be a Memorial Concert held for Fran next May 19th 2018 at St John’s, Waterloo.