When Hannah and Hanna first appeared on stage last summer, audiences and critics embraced the play for its insightful grasp of the asylum issue, which touched a nerve at just the right time. The piece has also been acclaimed for its lack of stereotypes and pat conclusions - and I can see why.
Hannah (Jenny Platt) is a feisty 16-year-old British girl living by the seaside in Margate. While she hates her hometown - and feels there must be more to life than looking after her nan - she doesn't like seeing it "being taken over" by Kosovar refugees. Hanna (Erin Brodie), meanwhile, is one of those Kosovar refugees, who has to put with the everyday abuse of passers-by, including Hannah. Her love of British pop music and the feelings that lyrics evoke manage to keep her spirits soaring.
While very different on the outside, these two share more than a name; in fact, they have a great deal more in common than they realise. One fateful day, after Hanna's brother is attacked, the girls' lives become linked and a beautiful friendship develops. But with so much prejudice and warped views from both sides, life is never going to be easy.
Though, thankfully, always fresh and inspiring to watch thanks to two fantastic performances. Platt captures the essence of naïve and mouthy Hannah with all the correct mannerisms, while also digging beneath the façade to expose a multi-faceted character. Just as natural is Brodie as the shy Kosovar teenager who must grow a thick skin overnight. From her awkward body language through to the sweet moments where she learns new pop songs, Brodie excels.
Director and author John Retallack gives these two excellent young actresses great material to sink their teeth into. His script is funny and touching at times, but it also has a hard edge whenever things start to get maudlin, and his direction is assured, allowed the women to breathe easy and really live out their roles.
Hannah and Hanna is a thought-provoking, enduringly topical drama and, without a stereotype in sight, it wholly succeeds in surprising the audience at every turn. It's one of the best new pieces of theatre I've seen in long time. I urge you to go and see it, too.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at Manchester's Contact Theatre)