The 450th anniversary of Christopher Marlowe’s birth has already prompted one production of his most famous play, Doctor Faustus, in the capital this year. A little further along the river from The Rose’s more traditional production, the children’s Unicorn Theatre offers a new approach. Chris Thorpe’s new play Hannah is a captivating reimagining of Marlowe’s classic tale of temptation for a young, modern audience.
Left alone one Saturday morning after her environmental scientist mother leaves to ‘save the world’ at work, Hannah (Kae Alexander) reluctantly begins her chores. She panics when she finds that her pet lizard Dave has gone missing and after a frantic search begs the universe to make her the centre of the word, promising everything she has. Dave (Ian Keir Attard) returns but in human form, promising unlimited power in return for something she owns. Hannah eagerly offers her mother’s car and various objects from around her messy, One Direction spattered bedroom but the only thing she really owns is her soul. Dave tempts her to surrender it and they begin their adventure.
Together they create a creepy doll ‘friend’ for Hannah then look down at the world from above. The tone of the play soon turns sinister as Hannah accidentally starts a world war and realises that with great power comes great responsibility.
The beautiful projection, designed by Andrzej Goulding, really brings the show to life. The first glimpse we see is the projection of a galaxy onto Hannah’s room but the clever digital technology gets even more impressive towards the end of the play. The bedroom set is drawn back and the floor becomes the focus. First a map is projected onto the ground before us, then we are treated to a view of the world as if from space before we zoom back in to an island. The floor becomes a clear ocean and a turtle swims around the feet of the front row – cue wide eyes, pointing, and whispered wows from the children. The design is faultless and the effect it has on the young audience is just magical.
The cast is strong with the exception of Hannah’s mother (Irma Inniss) who makes the mother/daughter relationship, so central to the story, feel empty. Kae Alexander captures childhood wonder charmingly as Hannah but it is Ian Keir Attard who is rewarded with the loudest applause. His lizard-cum-Mephistopheles Dave is an inspired character, well written and performed with just the right balance of comedy and evil temptation, though his devilish flashes of rage might be a bit too scary for little ones (the play is recommended for the 11+ age group).
Chris Thorpe’s impressive script translates Marlowe’s play to the modern world well, giving 21st century reference points like the problems of pop star fame. Hannah is the perfect Doctor Faustus for the online generation, condensing the original but retaining its power and not shying away from the important darker themes. It’s beautifully poetic in parts too and the addition of a narrator (Rhys Rusbatch) ensures that even the youngest audience members are keeping up then asking that tantalising question: What would you do, if you had all the power in the world?