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Review of Sam Potter’s Hanna at the Arcola Theatre

Hanna Sophie Khan Levy (Hanna) Credit Robert Workman
Hanna Sophie Khan Levy (Hanna) Credit Robert Workman

It’s a little like watching one of those chat shows where a guest is asked one question as a starting point. The gregarious personality of the interviewee means the conversation flows very freely, with further interventions and questions from the host kept to a minimum. Except in Hanna, the sole onstage title character, played by Sophie Khan Levy, has no interviewer, and there’s no movie, book or (ahem) theatre play to promote. Indeed, while the story holds more than enough intrigue and interest throughout, it’s not entirely clear why Hanna is telling her version of events. The audience is directly addressed, which is often the case in solo performances, but in what context is this
recollection of the salient points of a few years of Hanna’s life being presented?

It helps, tremendously, that this tell-all confession is delivered by a warm and appealing character. Seated on stage, aside from a few short moments when she stands, this is ‘old school’ storytelling. Just one voice, no video projections, no scene changes, no costume changes, and a set comprised entirely of a side table with a pitcher of water and a glass, a chair and a rug. Much is therefore reliant on the performance itself.

The conversational tone keeps things informal, at times coming across as a stream of consciousness more than anything else. “I should edit myself,” she muses at one point, which left me thinking, “Yes, you should.” But the inclusion of so much detail, whether relevant or not, rather than being superfluous, adds validity to the sequence of events being described. As there is no indication in the show’s programme that this is based on a true story, it is reasonable to assume it is entirely fictional – indeed, if it were real, it probably would have been widely reported.

The plot is, at least to me, entirely believable, and rather topical, perhaps unintentionally so, at a time when the National Health Service is again hitting news headlines as it is, once more, overstretched. The story, at face value, is rather bleak, and Hanna’s perspective on the world provides some moments of comic relief. I wondered if this was going to be one of those plays where everything is ticking along nicely before a critical incident suddenly occurs thereby altering the course of the character’s life, and those of others, immediately and permanently. This is, technically speaking, what happens, but here, it’s convincing, and never overblown or melodramatic.

I would have liked to have heard one or two different points of view, particularly from Razina, another mother that Hanna comes into contact with for reasons explained in the narrative, and Hanna’s own mother, portrayed by Hanna as rather abrasive and interfering. What was really going on in their minds as events played out? Mind you, it’s a good thing, really, that the play introduces such off-stage characters with enough background detail for them to be cared about.

There’s a living room ambience to this show, and once it gets into its stride, it’s gripping as much as it is poignant. A very personal story, well-acted and well-directed.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The only words are to do with adoption. But that’s not what happened to us. What happened to us was something quite different.
Being a young mum is supposed to be hard – but for Hanna, the only thing she’s ever been brilliant at is raising her beloved daughter Ellie.

Until a DNA test reveals staggering news. Ellie is not Hanna’s child. And now her ‘real’ parents want to meet. How can an ancient mix-up in an overstretched maternity ward be explained to a three-year- old? Is Hanna supposed to let these strangers into her daughter’s life? Forced to question what being a parent really means, Hanna makes a drastic decision that will change all their lives.

This funny, heartfelt and compelling world premiere from Off West End Award nominee Sam Potter asks what family means in a modern society, delicately weaving in questions of racial identity, economic privilege, and the lottery of birth.

Starring Sophie Khan Levy
Director: George Turvey; Designer: Jasmine Swan; Lighting Designer: Jack Weir
Sound Designer: Richard Hammarton

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