Award winning theatre of the moment

James Haddrell of Greenwich Theatre introduces Hannah and Hanna, an acclaimed response to the refugee crisis and an upbeat and emotional story of an unlikely friendship between two teenage girls.


“this play is well worth a watch, not just for its talented cast and classic 90s’ playlist, but also because of its important core message. Amongst the UKIP and far-right rhetoric circulating at the moment, Hannah and Hanna reminds us of the importance of our shared humanity and the need for basic decency.” Broadway Baby

With the news dominated by the plight of Syrian refugees, the ground-swell of support for a nation’s displaced families, and the arguments over how many people each country in the world may or may not take, at Greenwich Theatre we are preparing to explore some of these issues with a week-long run of the award-winning play HANNAH AND HANNA, our co-production with new company CultureClash.

Earlier this year, in the lead up to the general election, I was looking for a show that would respond in some way to the apparent rise of extreme right-wing politics, and arguably the media’s increasing legitimisation of extreme right wing views. At the same time two young actresses, Serin Ibrahim and Cassandra Hercules, co-founders of CultureClash, were looking for a play to launch their company at the Edinburgh Festival. Together, we found HANNAH AND HANNA.

Written by John Retallack, HANNAH AND HANNA is set in Margate in 1999 during the lead-up to the Millennium, and more importantly, during the Kosovan refugee crisis. The play tells the story of two teenage girls, one from Kosovo and one from Margate, and their battle to form a friendship despite the massive local tensions brought about by the influx of refugees.

The play is inspired by true events – at the time, government decision-making saw thousands of refugees relocated to seaside towns with empty hotels, so that local communities already struggling with seasonal and increasingly failing tourist economies were presented with whole new communities, often without warning, coming and taking up hotel space and being granted food vouchers to use in local supermarkets. The result in many cases was an explosion of right-wing political movements, the dramatic rise of the National Front, and violent opposition to those fleeing violence in their own countries.

We secured the rights to stage HANNAH AND HANNA at the Edinburgh Festival at a time when UKIP was campaigning on policies of exclusion and xenophobia and we felt we had a play that responded to current events. We had no way of knowing that it would become so much more relevant.

The escalation of the civil war in Syria and the resulting news stories about refugees struggling to gain access to Europe, the fight to contain refugees at Calais, and the polarised responses from those open to helping the refugees and those wanting to close our borders ensured that HANNAH AND HANNA became the play of the moment, one of the Edinburgh Festival’s clearest responses to an international crisis.

All of this makes HANNAH AND HANNA sound like a very earnest night at the theatre. With our news headlines dominated by the refugee crisis, do audiences really want to spend an evening in the theatre learning more about it? However, HANNAH AND HANNA is actually a heart-warming hour of entertaining story-telling, a show lifted by an upbeat karaoke soundtrack, and a play ultimately about two girls trying to become friends when the world around them doesn’t want to let that happen. It’s a play with more than enough emotional heart and political integrity for adults, but seen through the eyes of two teenage girls, it’s also a perfect way of explaining some of the issues to younger audiences.

“Produced by CultureClash and Greenwich Theatre, John Retallack’s very moving, often funny play Hannah and Hanna is so very important… This is a play that should be shown in every workplace and school. We should also perhaps think of paying CultureClash Theatre to “swarm” into Number 10 Downing Street with it.” British Theatre Guide

HANNAH AND HANNA is a piece that I am very proud of, for so many reasons. It marks my debut as a director, so whilst I spend a high percentage of my time supporting emerging theatre companies in making their work I have never before come across a script that inspired me enough to take a few weeks out of my usual schedule and direct it myself.

It represents something that I think is rare in theatre, in that both adults and older children in Edinburgh loved it – we often struggle to find quality theatre for over 10s which that age group are interested in watching with their parents, but that’s exactly what HANNAH AND HANNA proved to be.

And finally whilst theatre can offer an evening of escapism, it also has the ability to address the issues facing us as a nation. When a show can offer both, can take an audience on an emotional journey that they’ll remember and talk about, but at the same time connect that journey to the world around us today, that is when I think theatre is at its strongest, its most important and its most magical.

About James Haddrell

James has been Artistic & Executive Director of Greenwich Theatre on Crooms Hill since 2007 and is rightly credited with the Theatre as you see it today, developing young artists and producing a large amount of work in house.

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