Hanna, a one-woman show by Off West End Award Nominee Sam Potter at the Bike Shed Theatre this week, was nothing short of a heart-warming, funny piece of exceptional theatre. Not quite sure what to expect from a show made-up of a cast of one, I was pleasantly surprised at how captivated and touched I was by Sophie Khan Levy’s acting, the stripped down set, and the poignant story that unfolded in an hour and a half. Hanna is an exceptional piece of writing crafted into a delightful performance, worthy of the praise that it has garnered so far.
Hanna follows the story of, unsurprisingly, Hanna – a single working-class young mum who, despite being brutally honest about parenthood, passionately enjoys raising her beloved daughter Ellie. The story takes an unusual turn when a DNA tests reveals that three-year-old Ellie is in fact not Hanna’s biological daughter, and that the two are the victims of an awful mix up at the hospital when Ellie was born. When Ellie’s biological parents want to meet, Hanna is forced to make decisions and ask questions that no-one should be have to do on their own; the stark reality of their situation turned Hanna’s life upside down.
Their story is crude, honest and hilarious, leaving the audience hooked on Hanna’s every word. Throughout the performance, I found myself questioning what the definition of family really was, and I was subtly led into a discussion with myself on ethnicity, social class and parentage. A touching and intense story-telling experience, Hanna seeks to convey what it truly means to be a parent, and in some ways, it deconstructs our society’s deep-rooted ideas about the concept of family. The intimate nature of the themes sit comfortably in this moving story.
The show’s single cast member, Sophie Khan Levy, plays Hanna exceptionally well. Her expressive acting keeps the audience focused through-out the show; she had us laughing, sighing and silently gasping as the story developed into unexpected and unpredictable circumstances. At the most crucial moments you could hear a pin-drop, and I found myself on the edge of my seat, as if I was living the story with Hanna. Levy trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and her theatre credits include Fracked (Chichester Festival Theatre and National tour), Love’s Labour Won (RSC) and Cymbeline (Belgrade Theatre, Coventry). Levy is an undoubtedly talented and well-rounded actor, and her brilliance is showcased in her role as Hanna.
The crew (George Turvey as the director, Jasmine Swan as the designer, and Jack Weir and Richard Hammarton as the lighting and sound designers respectively) have done a fantastic job. The minimalist set is well-thought out and extremely effective, producing an honest sense of vulnerability. Coupled with the subtle changes in lighting, your complete attention is on Levy’s storytelling; her movements and minimal use of space are surprisingly powerful. They go hand in hand with the Bike Shed Theatre, making the play feel like a natural fit for such a small and personal venue.
Hosting it’s seventh leg of its 2018 UK tour, the Bike Shed Theatre has provided the perfect intimate setting for Hanna. Among other awards, it has won the Peter Brook Empty Space Award and the UK’s most welcoming theatre prize at the UK Theatre Awards in 2013. The theatre’s unique, quirky cellar bar, found down a cobbled alleyway off Fore Street, filled with mismatched furniture and bare brick walls, welcomes you into a relaxed and warm atmosphere that flows into the small theatre next door. Unfortunately, its owner David Lockwood recently announced that the Bike Shed Theatre will need to close later this year due to their dwindling takings at the theatre’s bar. The bar’s profits are used to support the theatre, so they have no option but to close; this is a real loss to the arts and culture scene in Exeter.
Hanna is an outstanding piece of theatre, and a fantastic debut to Sam Potter’s playwriting career. It both consolidates and questions your own ideas of family and kin, so expect laughter, tears, and a pull at your heartstrings. If you get a chance to catch the show in Mold, Liverpool or Cardiff, I’d recommend you do so.
– Luanna De Abreu Coelho
Featured image source: https://www.bikeshedtheatre.co.uk/shows/hanna/