Review: Hanna, Arcola Theatre

The stage is nearly empty, except for a chair and desk on a red carpet with a spiral pattern. A red-coloured spotlight shines light on the setting. A jug of water and a glass are placed on the desk. A young woman enters and seats down, the audience becomes silent in joyful anticipation. Hanna (Sophie Khan Levy) starts to tell her story and spellbinds the audience with her honest, lively and touching way to address every one of them.

Hanna is written by the Off West End Award nominee Sam Potter and directed by George Turvey for its world premiere by Papatango Theatre Company in the Arcola Theatre. It is about the young single mother Hanna, who finds out that her three-year-old daughter Ellie is not her birth-daughter – her birth-child was swapped with another one in the hospital where she gave birth. This threatening, life-changing fact is the starting point of her monologue and re-experiencing of what it means to form and have a family.

The question of racial identity leads into the investigation of what happened in the past, but more important is the focus on the present: A meeting with the mother of Hanna’s birth-daughter is already arranged. The children Ellie and Ayesha immediately become friends, but what about the relationships of their mothers? How can a family even be formed with the knowledge that you are not raising your birth-child, but someone else, a few blocks away, does that job?

The presentation of Hanna, sometimes apologetic, sometimes surprisingly straight-forward, is always disarmingly honest which creates a bond full of sympathy and empathy with the audience. Her grasping for memories to make her feelings intelligible frame her portray, but also immerse the audience in her story. The writing of Potter sparks laughter, sighs or even simple nodding, of echoed and recognisable experiences. It zooms in on a detailed focus on the inner life of a twenty-one-year old mother whose daily life is a questioning of the construction of family, identity and fate. While calming the storm of her own life, Hanna does not swell in self-absorption but proves a fresh, curious and sceptical view on the world. The woman who introduces herself as someone who lacks confidence proves the opposite, through her storytelling full of bravery and determination. Potter creates a real masterpiece of a portrayal of a young woman who fights for her rights to settle down in our unsettling world.

The artistic act of storytelling is mastered in Levy’s embodiment of Hanna which presents maturity, confidence and especially warmth and vitality. The revelation of the way Hanna deals with this unexpected incident establishes contours of a loveable character by the playwright Potter, but Levy fills it with life. Hanna’s story is re-lived in front of the audience who are positions as witnesses for the present moment and the past. Levy’s acting pulls everyone in Hanna’s life and makes it hard to leave her in the end.

The combined talents of Potter and Levy places Hanna as a must-see experience for every theatre-lover. The skills of writing and storytelling are presented as its best and promise a roller-coaster ride of emotions facing what seems as a catastrophe in certain light, but which does lose it shadows from different perspectives. Can all the chaos, confusion and fear of loss be turned into a chance? Potter and Levy have 70 minutes to recount.

Hanna is playing the Arcola Theatre until 20th of January. For more information and tickets, see www.arcolatheatre.com/event/hanna/.