October 14, 2008

Review: Hannah and Harvey

By Joyce McMillan


FROM Stranraer to Lochgelly and Lerwick, this latest touring show from Tim Nunn's Reeling & Writhing company sets off on a substantial tour of small venues around Scotland this week, and wherever it goes, it should be seen by those who care about young people and their growing vulnerability to mental health problems.

Presented as part of the current Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, Hannah and Harvey is based on the real-life story of a 12-year-old girl suffering from crippling anxiety and panic attacks, combined with anorexia and agoraphobia so bad she cannot leave her room. She expresses herself by drawing images of her fears and dreams, in a sharp, expressionistic style captured here in spectacular projected images created by young artist Helen Nunn, on whose story the play is based.

Among the figures she draws is a rabbit called Harvey, an ambiguous female figure - drawn partly from the James Stewart movie of that name - who at first seems like a wise friend in a hostile world, but is revealed as Hannah's worst enemy, the embodiment of the illness she has to fight.

Hannah and Harvey is a show as flawed as it is ambitious. The outline of the drama is often smothered in visual imagery, and sometimes blurred by flat-footed dialogue that slides confusingly towards an easy complicity with Harvey's world-view. But Romana Abercromby turns in a terrific, heart-touching performance as Hannah, with support from Clare Waugh as Harvey and Stewart Ennis as her loving Dad; and by the time we reach the final showdown between Hannah and her personal demon, this brave and thoughtful show has taken us a long way into a deeper understanding of how mental illness feels, and how - with love and courage - it can begin to be healed.

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