Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Hello/Goodbye

Peter Souter
Hampstead Theatre

Shaun Evans as Alex and Miranda Raison as Juliet Credit: Manuel Harlan
Shaun Evans as Alex and Bathsheba Piepe as Amanda Credit: Manuel Harlan
Miranda Raison as Juliet and Luke Neal as Leo Credit: Manuel Harlan
Miranda Raison as Juliet and Shaun Evans as Alex Credit: Manuel Harlan

Hello/Goodbye had a first outing in the Hampstead’s studio theatre two years ago and now Peter Souter’s comedy, with some changes, gets a showing in the main house. Its two acts present the first hour and the last of a couple’s relationship—with a whole ten-year gap in between.

A young man, that’s Luke, is unpacking his belongings in his new apartment when a key turns in the lock and attractive Juliet lets herself. She claims it is her flat and she too is moving in, though she has only one box of belongings.

Despite phone calls to her estate agent, there is no explanation as to how this double-up could happen. It is simply a plot ploy to get these two together and arguing. That doesn’t make the situation very believable nor does the fact that Juliet is soon telling this complete stranger that she has had sex with the bridegroom at a wedding who happens to be her boyfriend’s best mate.

Farce often involves accepting an unlikely twist to set up a situation and this often frantic comedy also requires it, but, not only is there no elucidation, apart from the arrival of Luke (Like Neal), the boyfriend who seems to have just turfed Juliet out, called by her to throw out Alex, but the plot doesn’t move forward beyond this position until almost the end of the act.

Juliet is self-centred, short-tempered and irresponsibly sex-driven who is soon in hysterics with her 'phone smashed. Alex is a bit of a nerd: an obsessed collector of collections of everything from McDonald's plastic toy give-aways to US baseball cards who claims to earn a living designing album covers and takes everything very literally.

He characterises her a volcanically bad-tempered only child; she calls him a freak. Miranda Raison’s Juliet with her rapid-fire rant and Shaun Evans’s murky-accented, unmoved Alex couldn’t be more of a contrast, though the one-note to which each character keeps begins to become very repetitive.

There is a bit of a break in the slanging match while she cooks up a quick omelette sandwich, and for no reason he is suddenly suggesting she might move into the spare room. She accuses him of being after her body; he clearly never gets any. He says it’s the opposite and he’s good at it. “Altruism in bed is the key to good sex,” he tells her.

Well you can see where it is leading but, despite the energy and effort the actors put into it and the loaded laugh lines, this remains little more than confrontation, its bickering flirtation a kind of male comic nightmare trying to turn into a wet dream.

The second act, set ten years later, has the same couple ending their childless marriage and dividing up their possessions as they leave this same flat. At last we begin to learn something more about them, gain some understanding. The involvement of Bathsheba Piepe’s Amanda (who is not what Alex’s new girlfriend as Juliet thinks her) adds a twist that helps build to a contrived ending to send audiences home rom-com happy.

The last twenty minutes pack in more than the whole of the first half but not enough to make up for the repetition of the rest.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton