Hannah at the Unicorn
There are many extraordinary things about this play by Chris Thorpe, a retelling of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus aimed at young audiences: it is written entirely in iambic pentameter, it extensively uses high-tech projections, and it incorporates elements of magic. The production is extremely ambitious, but the ambition pays remarkable dividends.
The setting is Hannah’s bedroom, walls plastered with posters of Union J and the solar system. This immediately sets up the play’s central dilemma: how a grumpy and self-centred teenager will react when presented with the power to change the world.
Three elements of the production make it particularly enthralling: first, the impressive and constantly surprising use of technology. TV screens flicker and talk to Hannah, projectors turn the stage floor into a map of London, zooming out to become the Earth and then the universe. Bright purple and blue nebulae are projected onto the walls of Hannah’s bedroom and the audience is transported from a small theatre to an expansive, infinite realm. The second great strength is director Simon Evans’ incorporation of magic, misdirection and theatrical legerdemain; characters appear on stage from nowhere, and disappear just as quickly.
Third, the play is written entirely in iambic pentameter. Although Marlowe’s or Shakespeare’s use of English is “old-fashioned now”, to their audiences it would have been completely comprehensible. Writer Chris Thorpe gives his audience the same experience as an Elizabethan crowd: to listen to a play in verse, but written in a modern style that we can understand completely.
Kae Alexander as Hannah gives an energetic performance, bouncing across the stage. She shows good progression from grumpy teenager to someone beginning to understand the complexities of the world and the burden of responsibility. Rhys Rusbatch plays a detached narrator, explaining the onstage action in a gentle manner, like a friendly lecturer. His performance is controlled and calm, and he delivers the poetic lines in a very natural way.
Since the play is in verse there are lots of aphoristic lines, which can seem overly moralising or didactic. But the production is aimed at younger audiences and, in fact, the themes that it deals with are by no means simple – a little guidance from the playwright is necessary and ultimately Thorpe leaves the audience to draw its own conclusions about this visually stunning play’s complex messages.
Hannah is on at the Unicorn Theatre until 9th March 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch director Simon Evans talk about the production here: