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Hannah and Hanna

John Retallack
Gilded Balloon (Edinburgh) and the Arcola Theatre (London).
(2001)

John Retallack is the former Artistic Director of the Oxford Stage Company and made quite a reputation for that company. He has now decided to write and direct plays for upcoming young performers in his new Company of Angels. Hannah and Hanna at the Gilded Balloon is one of these plays and allows Alyson Coote and Celia Meiras, who are both fresh from stage schoo,l to show good acting and singing skills.

What he has written for them is an excellent play that considers the plight of asylum seekers from Kosovo who get washed up in Margate and the reactions to them of the locals. The first half of the play introduces us to Hannah and Hanna, two sixteen year old residents of Margate.

The English one has no understanding of why these people are in her town and agrees with her ugly boyfriend Bullfrog that they should be sent home. She encounters her Kosovan equivalent on the beach and abuses her. At least this makes a change from the normal British pastime of beating each other up. As the victim bemusedly says, "They don't like us but they don't know us".

What soon becomes apparent is that there are real similarities between our green and pleasant land and the bombed-out hell of Kosovo. In both, hatred is always bubbling just below the surface. The outlets for the hatred are very different though.

The two girls are eventually brought together through their love of singing and pop music. Kylie Minogue, Steps and especially Louise have travelled to Kosovo and present a common language. Soon, English Hannah has to make the decision to become an adult and befriend the stateless Hanna or slavishly follow Bullfrog.

After the interval, an Edinburgh rarity, the play becomes a little too sentimental as the two girls with family members in tow try to make a difference to the suffering. At the end, their friendship and outlook on life is summed up surprisingly well in the words of Naked by Louise which they sing rather beautifully, A Capella.

This is a very moving play that is willing to address serious political issues. It also provides a showcase for two good young actresses who give robust but sensitive performances. They are well supported by designer, Phil Newman and Karl James who provides a kind of karaoke soundscape.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher