Hannah Maxwell’s second show, Nan, Me and Barbara Pravi, is a metatheatrical, playful, and layered tale of celebrity obsession (specifically hers with Eurovision 2021 performer Barbara Pravi), isolation, and watching Countdown with her nan. Maxwell tackles the dark and difficult details of life with whimsy and perspicacity. Expect ballads, dance, and school-level French.
What kind of unofficial ranking systems do you use for the musicians during Eurovision season?
Full disclosure: I’m not as big a Eurovision fan as my Fringe show would seem to suggest! But I do have fun watching it with my dad, who has a very dry sense of humour. We count the number of key changes, and the ones where songs have been slightly mistranslated, and when they’ve picked an awkward phrase in English that doesn’t quite scan if you’re a native speaker. I like spotting risk assessments – someone’s in seven-inch heels on a platform that’s moving forward! My sound designer hosts the Eurobliss podcast – so he’d be a great person to ask about that.
Why Barbara Pravi? And do know I intend on writing her name several times throughout this so that the algorithms can bump it up when she inevitably Googles herself and I can be a part in getting her to email you.
I was watching Eurovision 2021 at a very low ebb. I was isolated. We were coming off the back of lockdown and I was living alone with my nan in Luton. Barbara appeared, singing in French, which is just something else, especially because I didn’t speak French.
I’ve tried to learn French as part of this show but… [laughs] There’s something so cool and earnest about it, and I’m tired and British and cynical. She became a comforting brain space to live in through some dark moments.
Speaking of the algorithm – the show deals with queer obsession, and I do play it out for laughs and exaggerate some things. But something that is true is that I have a Google Alert set up with her name. Obviously, there’s much less news on her now, she was in Eurovision two years ago, but she got one recently, and it was my interview with Theatre Weekly! I went through the looking glass in the middle of rehearsal, and I literally stopped everything because I was starting to scream.
I find that there is so much relatability in the hyperspecific. Tell me more about your Middle England experiences and your nan, and their parts to play in this show.
Now that I’ve got two shows, I can say I have ‘a practice’. My schtick is the hyperspecific and the idiosyncratic. I find it very awkward when shows say: ‘This is a show for anyone who’s ever been in love’, or ‘This is a show that deals with the homelessness crisis’. Big, big themes there. They can sometimes feel a little bit hollow, or by trying to be universal you end up saying nothing. I like to hardcore commit, talking about something so aggressively specific to my experience: when people find resonances with that it’s much more pleasurable for them.
So, Middle England – I find that texture really rich. There’s a big pushback to say that all of Middle England falls into the Brexit bin and we want to disassociate ourselves from those areas.
Cities are filled with lots of white gay people from the suburbs who deny that they were ever there. I like to return to that and then have this slightly intellectualised queer perspective, but in a little home county town thinking about Oat So Simple Porridge, Tesco Express, and watching Countdown with my nan. I find it funny to smash those things together with this kind of florid, over-the-top way of storytelling, which I default to despite attempts to branch out.
My nan is so enthused by this show and her voice appears in voiceovers in it. I took my voiceover kit to her flat and shoved her in an airing cupboard, and she loved doing that. She used to act a bit when she was in her 20s and 30s.
You really write about what you know – what is it like playing yourself, or perhaps a caricature of yourself, in your show?
I love performing as myself but in different modes. There’s one or two places where it breaks away and I’m not even the protagonist anymore, I am the Hannah who is performing the show and doesn’t really want to.
It’s essentially two plays in one: it’s the one that it tries to be at the start, and the thing that it devolves into, which is the me on stage who is more and more reticent to keep telling the story, because I know where it’s going, and it’s not going somewhere particularly amusing or pleasant. I’m performing not performing.
What do you want the audience to bring to the show and what will they leave with?
Bring an openness to come on this madcap journey with me, wheresoever it may go. Let’s continue that conversation about what we were doing during the odd years of the pandemic. The thing I most enjoy about performing my work is this wonderful moment of understanding that you can temporarily create with an audience. It connects them to me, and it connects them to each other. And they should download Barbara Pravi’s music on Spotify so that she can get some money from them.
Nan, Me and Barbara Pravi is at Summerhall 2nd till 13th, 15th till 20th, & 22nd till 27th August. Tickets here.