Hello/Goodbye (Hampstead Theatre, London) – review by Carole Woddis.

If you’d never seen Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill or a Richard Curtis film, Peter Souter’s Hello/Goodbye might strike you as wholly delectable.  A home-grown rom-com for the twenty first century’s second decade.

If you have seen any of the above, however, you might also detect a certain similarity.

Young feisty woman turns up in flat she thinks she’s rented only to find herself pre-empted and sharing it with unknown stranger, a rather gormless nerdy character heavily into collecting everything from plastic dinosaurs to American baseball cards.

What starts out as antagonism inevitably falls into attraction and ultimately each other’s beds.

So far so familiar.  And considering the lightness of subject matter, tv script-writer turned theatre playwright, Peter Souter keeps the banter moving along nicely in the first half thanks to a grandstanding performance from the flowing haired Miranda Raison (late of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII at Shakespeare’s Globe amongst other things) as the volatile, hot-tempered, badly behaved Juliet and Shaun Evans’s diffident, Hugo Grant-lite Alex.

Alex may seem a push-over to the waspish Juliet but his diffidence hides a sharp eye for detail (the secret to any successful collector apparently).  And Souter has a trick or two up his sleeve structurally.  Having spent 45 minutes bringing them together he then spends the next showing them splitting and dividing up the mementoes they’ve shared.

Suddenly Juliet is melting soft, Alex the spikier of the two.  And Souter has a few more twists and turns to throw into the mix before collapsing into the hopeless – but not entirely unaffecting – sentimentality for which Curtis’ films are so renowned.

Love is the thing, of course.  `It’s the only thing worth doing with your one and only life: loving someone to the exclusion of your own needs’, writes Souter somewhat breathlessly in the programme.

Well, yes.  Hello/Goodbye evidently started out life in Hampstead’s Downstairs small studio theatre.  And sold out.

You can imagine this rather intimate piece sitting very happily in the smaller space, drawing its audience into Juliet and Alex’s domestic but easy-on-the-ear quick-fire exchanges.  Developed and transferred upstairs, it now sits, more maturely, in the larger space and director Tamara Harvey does well to keep our attention focussed enough to make us care sufficiently.  Some may indeed feel it comes as a welcome relief after Ed Hall’s rather weightier previous subjects such as the miners strike and the NHS.

Two other actors, Luke Neal and Bathsheba Piepe have the rather thankless task of providing additional but peripheral interest as a former boyfriend and auctioneer respectively and its Raison and Evans who must make the sparks fly.

Some have likened them to a modern Hepburn and Tracey.

Not quite sure if that stands scrutiny but Raison is immensely watchable and talented and positively glows in the second half whilst Evans – a fascinatingly gauche younger Morse in the tv series Endeavour, the prequel to Morse – musters enough quirky male awkwardness to lay claim to being Grant’s successor in the rom-com stakes.  He is, however, an actor of infinitely darker, deeper shades of meaning.  I hope Hello/Goodbye, pleasant as it is, doesn’t lead to him getting seriously typecast as an endlessly diffident romantic lead!

Hello/Goodbye is at Hampstead Theatre to Feb 28

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

@Hamps_Theatre

© Carole Woddis.  January 2015.