Writer Peter Souter’s first play, Hello/Goodbye, was originally performed in the Downstairs venue of the Hampstead Theatre, but moved to the larger upstairs auditorium due to popular demand – and it’s not hard to see why. Half satirical comment on materialism, half quirky romantic comedy, Hello/Goodbye centres on two characters, Juliet and Alex, who meet when they are sold the same flat by different estate agents.
So far, so standard meet-cute. But what makes Hello/Goodbye stand out is its perfectly paced, naturalistic dialogue, which manages to be funny without ever feeling forced. Shaun Evans is understatedly touching as the awkward, quick-tongued Alex, and Miranda Raison manages to make the irascible Juliet endearing enough that we even miss her fiery passion – once it dies down. They are everyday, unglamorous characters, neither particularly likeable before Alex’s curious perceptiveness blows Juliet’s past wide open. There is a pathos in the oddness of the everyday, a tangle of millennial emotions and sexual politics that are never quite straightened out, not even in the (fairly predictable) ending to the piece.
The thrust staging brings an immediacy to the play, a lack of distance from the characters before us. The stage is set with an impressive fully working kitchen, which changes (as do the characters’ costumes) in the interval in order to illustrate the 10 year gap between the acts. Raison in particular shines in demonstrating the effect that the wear and tear of the previous decade has had on Juliette.
Hello/Goodbye is both tender and funny, sweet but never saccharine, full of deadpan one-liners and the unpredictability of human impulse and love. It left the audience laughing and ‘awww’-ing in equal measure, and is a surely a sign of good things to come from Souter.