FringeReview UK 2019
Peter Souter’s hello/goodbye is directed by Harry Atkinson. The set’s a modern kitchen designed, constructed and painted by Steven Adams with help from Tom Williams, Richard Harris and the whole team. With a working Aga and kettle. Adams designs summer and winter light, and sound too, where ‘The Windmills of My Mind’ magically pours through the system operated by Claire Ghiaci. Glenys Stuart leads a slinky set of costumes.
Peter Souter’s hello/goodbye is one of those plays like David Eldridge’s Beginning that’s unexpected: a heartbreaking heartwarming love story. Premiered at Hampstead Downstairs in 2014, revived in their main house in early 2015 it’s aptly close to Valentine’s Day in this BLT production. Directed by Harry Atkinson it’s a joyous discovery, ‘a chic comedy and modern metropolitan guide to falling in (and out of) love’, it’s far cleverer and more simple-hearted than that.
Screenwriter Souter’s known for Radio 4 plays and this was one: he’s triumphed in translating it into his first stage play. Yes it nods initially to Richard Curtis, Souter’s mentor, in manner. But his deft craft here tugs you just where it aches. And sets the play well beyond romcom tolerance levels.
Keziah Israel’s Juliet, brassy, entitled, sassy carries her boxed life into a fresh start in a new flat. We find out why shortly. It’s high summer. But there’s a stumble: amidst the boxes marked ‘heavy’, a young man’s also moving in; he won’t leave. ‘Who the hell says ergo?’ she asks incredulous.
This is Joseph Bentley’s exquisitely detailed Alex, giving every hunch every eager pounce on a farouche lexical outrage. Ergo, he says the agency’s screwed up and double-booked them; but his contract’s prepared first and he’s a tiny bit on the spectrum about that.
Juliet’s flat is already his flat and her frantic phone calls confirm it. As if that’s not enough, he’s fanciable… Even though he ‘likes things ordered and alphabetised and preferably laminated’. He collects every MacDonald’s toy, and designs geeky record albums in a nascent era of downstreaming (the play’s been updated by five years; it’s now 2009). In fact Juliet’s cornflakes has just the Stegosaurus – not T-Rex Alex corrects Juliet – he needs to complete that collection. An introvert who likes space, an extrovert who likes people as Juliet much later summarises them both. In the mean time her lover will turn up and pulp him.
There’s a masterly modern kitchen designed, constructed and painted by Steven Adams with help from Tom Williams, Richard Harris and the whole team. A working Aga and kettle, where eggs get fried and coffee made flourish stage right. Centrally a cedar-laminate table groans under boxes marked ‘heavy’. A central window gives on to sunlight. It’s almost too much for Juliet and Alex. The Aga and the ecstasy?
Adams designs summer and winter light, and sound too, where ‘The Windmills of My Mind’ magically pours through the system operated by Claire Ghiaci. Possibly depicting Alex’s flurry of catalogues, or Juliet’s impatience, it’s an intriguing out-of-period choice. Glenys Stuart leads a slinky set of costumes, most striking in all three costumes in Act Two.
The play focuses on the first and apparently last hour of their relationship, ten years on. Both involve bartering. If she gives him that stegosaurus – which might never come his way again – will he leave? If he gives her the box room for a few weeks gratis, will she leave? Then there’s devilled sandwiches she makes really well, from ingredients snatched when she fled her ex on being discovered having sex with he best friend’s new husband on the afternoon of their wedding reception. Which is why she’s just lost all her friends.
And her lover? Nick Farr’s warmly blokey Leo does turn up, looking on suspiciously before bonding with Alex on The Giants football team. ‘For people who are supposed to have only met 20 minutes ago. You seem pretty familiar. With each other.’ He’s off.
So Juliet might need to make a living as a cook. In the meantime, there’s a sudden flurry as talk of the heat, clothes removed, being given great orgasms lead to the end of Act One.
Winter light and a ferociously armoured couple in black – Stuart’s costumes beautifully catch the transformed older Juliet, and Claudia Fielding’s clinical Amanda, the woman waiting for Alex outside. as is offstage hedge-fund Hugo, for Juliet in his Aston Martin. The set’s almost bare save for a coversheet centrally where the last items ‘ours’ remain to divide. Their ten years is there, an un-openable 17th century trunk, a Damien Hirst print now worth thousands.
There’s fluffy handcuffs Juliet bought to save a relationship now serving as her bike lock (cue laughter). More crucially a china hen laying eggs, taxidermy dog with its jaw bashed, a bowl of pebbles. Each of these spools back time. Who’d know the pebbles represent the times they made love, adding and subtracting the next year? And why did he never take pictures of her, but keep on collecting his bloody toys the Squirrels had a go at. He’s so passionate about bloody squirrels he stars banging his head against the wall. And what’s in that trunk? After the matter of a suitcase and more discoveries, Juliet’s horrified. So what is he doing?
Fielding’s Amanda who has to bounce of the awkward silences she chances on, makes a consummate gift of Amanda’s tact. There’s quite a bit to be tactful about, though not quite what it appears.
Israel, always someone to divert an evening for, produces in the second Act a thrilling, truthful Juliet: sexy, impetuous, demanding, a screwed up ‘daddy’s girl’ as Alex hurls at her. She’s a whirligig in time. Having in the first act peaked early – Israel starts at too high a pitch – she’s now explosively passionate about what Alex denied them, which ultimately is themselves too. Bentley throughout is pitch-perfect, shedding Alex’s geeky defensiveness to soar with Israel in one of the most intense exchanges I’ve seen in Brighton. These two actors realize a performance perfectly at home in the Hampstead Theatre where the work originated.
Atkinson directs with a sinewy aplomb, allowing his characters to breathe in great silences yet paces with a crescendo that speeds the two hours traffic with a quarter-hour interval.
Souter traces a lovingly detailed palindrome of unravelling love, how it ravels strangely. Beautifully crafted with latter twists from character Souter shows us how we might nudge beyond it. Or not. Either way, is it enough? You must queue to see this. It’s quite wonderful.