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Review: Hannah Maxwell / Nan, Me & Barbara Pravi

A dining table, two gingham draped chairs and a microwave invite us into Hannah’s life at home in Luton, caring for her grandma. She pulls the audience in, literally, to join her microwaving porridge, sorting nan’s supersized pill box, and playing countdown.

She is comfortably at home on the stage by herself, addressing the audience in a towel robe, trackies and slippers. We’re right there with her as she daydreams, dancing with headphones on and a mop in hand. A trio of background screens project her phone or television screen, where she is mesmerised by France’s 2021 Eurovision contestant, Barbara Pravi.

The show revolves about Hannah’s infatuation, a growing obsession, with the singer. With the throw of a tablecloth, we are whisked away to a Parisian cafe, where she imagines flirting and slow dancing with Barbara. The fantasy is rudely interrupted when stage lights turn fully on and we are reminded of Hannah’s caring obligations. A call from the GP and the mop on stage is no longer a beautiful woman. We can feel her frustration with the constant interruptions, but they keep the story moving.

Hannah fantasises like Les Mis’s Eponine, and the line ‘a river's just a river’ comes to me as, lights on and screens off, she comes crashing towards an uncomfortable and raw sobriety. She admits to her fixations and faces the reality that coping with death and illness has made the world she’s transported us to feel ‘really fucking lonely’.

The big final tada, a painful sigh. The first confident and commanding Hannah is now resigned to her sadness. We discover that a show that promised to be about Barbara Pravi, actually might not be. Grandma's reassuring words end her monologue and Hannah signs off the show, low spotlight, ‘regardez moi’ she belts through the microphone.

The show left me thinking about the distractions we create in order to cope when life is difficult, with the conviction that putting this vulnerability on the stage can make others feel less alone, and with an urge to google Barbara Pravi.

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Nov 16, 2023

Thank you! Brilliant review of a good piece.

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