BAC (Battersea Arts Centre), London SW11
Opened 30 January, 2002

**** Powerful, affecting story of refugees in Britain

John Retallack's play, lauded on the Edinburgh Fringe, might have faltered when exposed to less forgiving London standards. But it triumphs.

My heart sank in the opening moments: sixteen-year-old Hannah from Margate and sixteen-year-old Hanna from Pristina in Kosovo, now a refugee in Margate, show us their photo albums, in a sort of Theatre in Education introduction which is horribly over-patterned and suggests that the evening is going to be more earnest than exciting. Celia Meiras as Hanna and (especially) Alison Coote as Hannah are also directed by Retallack into delivering their lines in an exaggerated, hyper-emotional near-singsong tone; and the use of music and the skein of links between the girls (Hanna's brother is half-murdered by Hannah's racist boyfriend, but is saved by a copper friendly to the refugees who turns out to be Hannah's brother) and use of pop karaoke to bond the pair seems programmatic.

But little by little, the simple power of the story refused to let me dislike it.  Despite all the above, Retallack goes neither for a story of artificial triumph or tragedy, but steers a realistic path which is at once minor-key and affirmative, as the girls' performances also come down to earth. I must even admit that my eyes misted up a few times at this modest but affecting gem of a show.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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