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Hannah

Chris Thorpe
Unicorn Theatre (Weston Theatre)

Kae Alexander as Hannah Credit: Manuel Harlan
Rhys Rusbatch as the Chorus Credit: Manuel Harlan
Kae Alexander as Hannah and Ian Keir Attard as Dave Credit: Manuel Harlan
Irma Inniss as Mum and Kae Alexander as Hannah Credit: Manuel Harlan

Inspired by Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, this is a tale of temptation, but at its centre is not a Doctor of Theology but a schoolgirl much like the 11+ youngsters at which this show is aimed.

Hannah is bright but likes to stay in bed, in a bedroom plastered with pictures of boy bands, a poster chart of dinosaurs and evidence of other early teen enthusiasms plus, in his terrarium home, her pet lizard Dave.

Hannah has got a LCD TV and a computer and a wall cupboard full of clothes, so she’s not badly off, though she doesn’t have a dad around. Her mum is not there much either, she leaves early, after trying to get Hannah to get up, and always seems to be working late—working to save the world, or trying to find ways to do so anyway.

Hannah is still in bed when the audience arrives. (Designer Ben Stones has given her a very nice bedroom of which every youngster would be jealous.) She’s keeping her head well under the covers when Rhys Rusbatch walks down through the audience as the Chorus and begins to tell her story, a story that may be a dream, though, as he says, dreams can be true.

When Irma Inniss’s lively scientist mum goes off to work in her laboratory Hannah does get on with the chores she is supposed to do but, when it comes to cleaning out her pet lizard’s tank, he can’t be found. It is then that he appears first on the computer screen and then sitting on the bed in human form ready to tempt her, like Mephistopheles in Marlowe’s Faust, making her wishes all come true if she will give him in return something she doesn’t need, her soul.

Hannah goes on to raise issues of making choices and the use and misuse of power, sometimes unwittingly because decisions are made with too little thought. This is not a direct reworking of Marlowe’s Faust. There is almost as much relevance to the genie in the bottle story from the Arabian Nights and other teaching tales. Where it does echo Marlowe is in the “magic” which Dave the lizard uses and dramatist Chris Thorpe’s use of springing iambic pentameter verse.

The cast handle his rich-languaged text with skill, relishing the rhythm and colour while maintaining a natural delivery, achieving all the gain that comes from verse without ever becoming consciously poetic. I doubt that the young people of its target audience will realise that this is poetry, but they will feel that it is extra good to listen to.

Rhys Rusbatch’s storyteller, with his slight Welsh cadences, gets the balance of authority and friendliness just right to achieve good rapport with the audience. Irma Inniss and Kae Alexander create exactly the right relationship between Mum and Hannah, that mix of love touched with exasperation so many will recognise from their own lives. Ian Keir Allard gives Dave a slightly sinister edge behind the apparent friendliness that makes Hannah warm to his proposals that can warn the audience that he shouldn’t be entirely trusted.

These clear and direct performances are matched, but never swamped, by spectacular theatrical magic as Dave conjures up visions of the world from space, zooming down to view the earth, diving through clouds as huge jets flash by, watching a turtle swim ashore to lay her eggs on a Pacific atoll or a great whale cross just beneath the water.

These are the work of projection and video artist Andrzej Goulding, beautifully integrated into the play by director Simon Evans. This is technology skilfully and beautifully used making its contribution as part of theatre.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton