No frills, all heart

hello goodbyeHello/Goodbye is an extraordinarily confident piece of writing.

Most debut playwrights are searching for that ‘hook’ to get them noticed – tricksy premise, burning topicality, unusual voice – but Peter Souter makes the bold choice of simply trusting in his characters to keep a downstairs Hampstead audience gripped.

Yes, there’s a vague nod to economic difficulty and property-industry shenanigans in the tale of two strangers stuck together when both claim possession of a small flat, but that’s merely the MacGuffin appetiser before the evening’s feast, a perfectly balanced banquet of odd-couple sparring in the best tradition, blending screwball comedy with incisive contemporary wit and surprisingly moving drama.

As the title suggests, Hello/Goodbye deals with beginnings and ends, specifically of relationships, but there’s no Pinteresque chronological wizardry, nor – despite the odd soapy plot turn – does it ever descend into kitchen-sink melodrama.

Instead, the totally committed and brilliantly cast leads, Jo Herbert and Andy Rush, take full advantage of Souter’s detailed character work, caustic one-liners and farcical builds to keep the pace at breakneck speed, slowly only occasionally to give us heart-stopping glimpses of raw vulnerability.

This is not a play that will be the subject of academic debate, nor will it change the face of British theatre, but as a study in human connections and the courage of change, it is outstanding, even – dare I say it – a superior offering to Boyd’s version of Chekhov in the main house. A rare gem.

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