JOHN RETALLACK – Writer & Director John Retallack is the author of twelve plays for young people and has adapted numerous texts for the stage and radio.
He was the founding director of ATC Theatre, director of Oldham Coliseum, director of Oxford Stage Company, and the founding director of Company of Angels.
From 2010 - 2013, he was Associate Director at Bristol Old Vic where he directed Owen Sheers’ play Pink Mist.
Prior to setting up the Oxford Playwriting Course, he was Tutor in Writing for Performance at Ruskin College in Oxford.
What compelled you to write both the original Hannah and Hanna, and its follow up Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland?
Before writing the original play of Hannah and Hanna, I had worked on a play about refugees in Holland. When I came back to London, I wanted to write something about the hosts, since at that time, I didn’t think there was anything around where we saw how much animosity existed between long term residents and newcomers from outside the UK. I decided to test this out in Margate and we did a workshop in a school in Ramsgate. I set up an improvisation where the students were talking to refugees in Kosovo. Their attitudes were astonishing – presumably influenced by the views of their parents. In the eyes of these young people, all asylum seekers had babies, were thieves and had Rolex watches! They were happy to unite around a common enemy. My daughter’s name is Hanna and at the time, her best friend was called Hannah, so this gave me the title of the play, in which I wanted to explore how two young women from very different backgrounds could become friends and what their story might be. Then in the summer of 2015, I began writing a play for the Unicorn about the Calais Jungle. It wasn’t produced but it led to me revisiting the story of Hannah and Hanna and to find out what happened to the Hanna(h)s 15 years on.
The play is set in Margate, but do you think it could be anywhere?
It is important that Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland is located in a coastal town – since the coast is traditionally where people arrive to and where they depart from. Margate is a uniquely good place to set the play. Not only is it close to Dover and Folkestone – and therefore to continental Europe, but it has also changed hugely between 2000 and today. Margate in 2000 was dilapidated and scary. Today, there is a more balanced political discourse and there are signs of lasting transformation.
Why is theatre a good way to explore some of the issues that Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland addresses, such as relationships, migration, racism, gentrification, the impact of incomers etc?
Theatre is an important medium to explore and debate these issues. At a time where there is no longer a proper political discourse in this country, it is up to artists to provide opportunities for people to talk about the things that should matter to us. Theatre punches well above its weight. It is my medium, the genre I know best, and I hope that Hannah and Hanna in Dreamland will enable audiences to look again at these important topics.