Norfolk and Norwich Festival, Highly Sensitive review: A playful exploration of difference

Hannah Jane Walker's solo show Highly Sensitive was at Norwich Arts Centre on Thursday, May 23. Phot

Hannah Jane Walker's solo show Highly Sensitive was at Norwich Arts Centre on Thursday, May 23. Photo: Holly McGlynn - Credit: Archant

Writer and performer Hannah Jane Walker's solo stage show - a mixture of poetry, performance and interactivity - sets out to explore its writer's defining trait. Jessica Frank-Keyes reviews the premiere at the Norwich Arts Centre...

Hannah Jane Walker wants you to know she doesn't have a condition or a disease.

It's not because she's female or a so-called snowflake.

And although women have been burned at the stake for it, her ability is not magic either.

Instead, we learn that via a process of intuition she describes as "emotional contagion", the Cambridge-based writer and performer can sense what those close to her are thinking and feeling.

This ability, we learn, is Walker's defining trait, and what gives the show, Highly Sensitive, its name.

It is present in up to 30pc of any given family, classroom or office.

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It might belong to one of the people sitting next to you at work, teaching your child, or sharing your home.

And it can set those who have it up for a lifetime of feeling lesser-than, in a society that prizes strength over sensitivity.

Walker's solo show is by turns funny and moving.

It explores the stories we've been told about why sensitivity is a weakness and asks how we can rewrite those myths to create ourselves a brighter, kinder future.

The hour-long show incorporates games, poems and audience participation

It seamlessly weaves a puppet-show style tale, told by eggs with hand-drawn faces, with stories about Walker's childhood, relationships, and parenting of her daughter.

She asks questions of her audience, and even ropes in a man in the front row to read lines written in the voice of her partner.

But the confessional, conspiratorial nature of the material draws gently on the audience's willingness to share, and never feels forced.

Moments of darkness are echoed in the lighting and musical backdrop, with a screen above set ensuring the action can be seen all the way to the back of the Arts Centre's auditorium.

The stage, which initially seems cluttered, slowly reveals itself to perfectly fit her movements across the space, with props and microphones moving and interlocking - and all helping to tell the story.

And whether you leave with a nod of recognition to Walker's experiences or not, the show is a playful exploration of difference, that asks all to understand one another a little better.

Walker studied literature at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, and has written for The Guardian and Radio Four. She is currently an associate artist at the city's National Centre for Writing.

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