Hello And Goodbye, York Theatre Royal Studio, until November 30. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
HELLO again to in-house productions in the York Theatre Royal Studio with this revival of Athol Fugard’s 1965 South African play Hello And Goodbye.
Associate artist John R Wilkinson had lamented the hiatus since the fading away of such Studio works as Blackbird, Blue/Orange and The White Crow and his own show, Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down, six years ago, as he spoke of the pride and spirit engendered by this resurrection: the very last word uttered in Fugard’s “biting yet beautiful parable”, by the way.
“The blue magic of that space has always given rise to intense, intimate storytelling,” said Wilkinson, whose production is exactly that: intense and intimate.
Hello And Goodbye is a two-hander, albeit with the “presence” of a third family member, the father to Johnnie (Emilio Iannucci) and Hester (Jo Mousley).
Hester is making an unexpected, unannounced visit to the family home at 57A Valley Road, Port Elizabeth, after an absence stretching back longer than the aforementioned Studio hiatus.
Iannucci’s Johnnie already has delivered a restless, psychologically fevered monologue, one that establishes both the dysfunctional state of the family and the unnerving dark, even gothic, humour at play in Fugard’s writing.
Chatting afterwards with Iannucci, he said audiences had laughed at some performances, not at others, but the play had worked both ways.
The way it goes may well depend on how you react to Johnnie telling Hester that he and their disabled Dad have been getting on well enough, but she cannot disturb him because he is asleep in the room next door. Put bluntly, his sleep could not be deeper.
If Johnnie is nervy, neurotic, repeatedly reaching for biblical quotes, Mousley’s Hester is frenetic in her desperate search for the £500 that she believes their father has squirrelled away somewhere in the house.
Johnnie can keep the house if he lets her find and keep the money, a task that involves him bringing through case after case that trigger traumatic memories of their past. Their already fractured relationship only worsens as Fugard meditates on family, selfishness and redemption, set against the social upheaval in South Africa at large.
Hello And Goodbye brings to mind the discomfiting Sixties’ plays of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, not least in a set design that mirrors the frayed, wounded state of mind of the sparring siblings, as designer Laura Ann Price scatters the stage with debris from the crumbling, smashed-out back wall.
Wilkinson has cast superbly: after his Studio debut in the children’s show E Nesbit’s The Book Of Dragons in December 2017 and his Romeo in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Romeo And Juliet at Blenheim Palace this summer, Iannucci has hit new heights here, calling on his physical theatre skills, his feel for black comedy and his relish for a surprise.
Mousley is a brilliant pick too, making her Theatre Royal debut after a year of outstanding performances in the Leeds Playhouse Pop-Up Theatre Ensemble. Her Hester has the disruptive force of an Ibsen, Chekhov or Greek tragedian female lead, and together with Iannucci, they settle on a mutual South African accent that is another impressive feature of Wilkinson’s intriguing, fascinating production.
In conversation, he called Hello And Goodbye “weird”, smiling impishly as he said it. Make that weird good, not weird bad.