By the standards of wryly apocalyptic poet and playwright Chris Thorpe, his ‘Hannah’ is a pretty chipper little show – it even boasts a happy ending.
By the standards of most children’s theatre, this riff on Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’ – yes, ‘Hannah’ is ‘Faust’ for kids – is almost bloody-mindedly uncompromising in its poetic density and evasion of moral clarity.
The likeable Kae Alexander is Hannah, a sulky teen who inadvertently brings damnation upon herself after wishing out loud for some outside force to help her find her lost lizard Dave.
Ian Keir Attard is impressively sinister as the scruffy embodiment of evil who answers her plea, manipulating and wilfully misinterpreting her every whim with palpable relish.
The real stars of the show, though, are Thorpe’s blank verse and Andrzej Goulding’s projections. The words elevate a rather rudimentary story beyond the humdrum and into the quietly magical. There’s an admirable lack of pandering to the age 11-plus audience, but by the same token the talkier passages in ‘Hannah’ often seem to be on the verge of losing the viewers’ attention. But they were always reeled back in by Goulding’s fabulous projections, which elicited gasps of amazement as Hannah’s bedroom turned into a seascape or constellation of stars at Dave’s whim.
Thorpe’s fondness for moral grey areas saps ‘Hannah’ of the clarity it probably needed: Hannah is no Faustus, and it’s hard to really see what she actually did wrong, apart from misplace a lizard. Thorpe’s play is more about the journey than the destination, but there’s plenty to see on the way for children with longer attention spans.
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We saw the play last Saturday with a bunch of 10 girls aged 11 and 12. The girls were surprised by how serious it was in parts but enjoyed watching a more grown-up play. They also loved the fun bits and the special effects. Several said they would be thinking about the play's message. The narrator's visits are timely to both break the tension and digest what is going on.
I haven't seen this play, although just tried booking tickets for Feb half-term and noticed that there don't seem to be performances during that week 17th-21st Feb, which is a shame but just wanted to alert people to this.