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Review: Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland at the Marlowe Theatre

An intense silence filled the auditorium as the curtains fell and lights faded for the final scene of a play exploring refugees, seaside towns and friendship.

The audience were collectively moved then exhilarated by a story that centres in Margate but explores Kosovo, Syria, the Calais Jungle and beyond.

Electric performances, a slick script and thought-provoking sound and staging deliver an intense production that informs and delights with crackling humour and all to nostalgic nineties pop.

Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland (4730407)
Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland (4730407)

Writer and director John Retallack's take on youth, karaoke and friendship was first performed 20 years ago and the first half of the play revisits the original piece.

Kosovo Hanna moves to Margate during the Balkan war and meets her namesake Hannah who hurls racist abuse at the behest of her far-right boyfriend.

But the pair bond over a shared love of singing and become firm friends - fast forward 20 years, they have lost touch but reconnect as Hanna seeks help to find a Syrian refugee named Mira.

Reprisal's can be a hard task but here it is necessary to start from the beginning to inform and develop the relationship between two very strong characters.

Kosovan Hanna is played by the original actor (Celia Meiras) and it is as if she has never been away slipping into a traumatised but feisty teenager who reconnects with the bolshie but benevolent Margate Hannah who this time is played by Thanet-born, Lisa Payne.

The duo are compelling and completely convincing as teenagers in a dilapidated Margate with the nineties and naughties brought to life vividly with the baleriac beats of Groove Armada's beach bohemia and Fat Boy Slim. It is given fresh perspective when viewed through the lens of a world handcuffed to social media and smart phones.

The treatment of refugees make us check ourselves, the memories of those times fade away like the sand on Margate beach. But Retallack does not want us to forget as dramatic scenes see a tear-jerking fight on a beach, heartfelt goodbyes and the ancient fear of otherness.

Of course, Hannah and Hanna are not vastly different and this is implicitly conveyed with their on screen synchronicity - be it singing together, dancing together or insulting each other.

The themes of far right nationalism may seem anachronistic had the Brexit landscape not fuelled a rise in extremism and a creeping sense of darkness on the horizon.

We live in uncertain times but the familiar motifs of friendship, love - and hate - bind the two halves of the play together.

Meiras is powerful in her indignation wailing to her rediscovered friend, "you have not changed!"

Payne underplays her character just enough to ensure this successful woman, who now sells property, is still vulnerable and willing to help her friend find Mira - which takes them on a epic journey to the Calais Jungle.

The actors expertly play a range of characters including Hannah's nan who Payne makes funny, endearing and warm.

But some of the most poignant moments are arguably the speechless ones: A beautifully choreographed scene to music builds the tension during an explicit fight.

The final scene features Mira who is played by a young Syrian refugee from Tenterden and tethers the drama to current affairs.

Then there is the silence of an awe-struck audience contemplating a magnificent piece of work - everybody should see this play.

Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland is playing across Kent with dates in Margate, Folkestone and Gravesend.

To find out more visit ukarts.com

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