Hello and Goodbye: “When the time comes…”

Jo Mousley and Emilio Iannucci in Hello and Goodbye, Photograph by Jane Hobson

Marking the return of in-house productions to the Studio, York Theatre Royal Associate Artist John R. Wilkinson – Genesis Future Director Award 2018 (Young Vic) – directs internationally acclaimed playwright Athol Fugard’s deceptively simple domestic drama Hello and Goodbye.

This is 57A Valley Road, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Johnnie (Emilio Iannucci – Book of Dragons; Romeo and Juliet for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre at Blenheim Palace) is being visited by his sister Hester (Jo Mousley – Pop-Up Theatre Ensemble, Leeds Playhouse) after a very long absence. Yes, says Johnnie, he and Dad have been getting along well enough but no, she can’t talk to him because he’s asleep in the next room.

Hester has really come home because she believes Dad has secreted five-hundred pounds somewhere in the house, and she makes a deal with her brother – he can keep the house as his part of the heritage, if he’ll let her find and keep the money. They share memories and swing between fondness and mistrust, Johnnie trying to keep passions down so that Daddy will not be awakened.

Wilkinson says of the Studio, “The blue magic of that space has always given rise to intense, intimate storytelling.” Where better to place this biting yet beautiful parable; a tense meditation on family, selfishness and redemption? Designed by Laura Ann Price, the space is inspired by a playful devised process between her and Wilkinson, feeding off the author’s notes and impressions of Johnnie’s personal constructs. The black box morphs into a shack with a glowing war wound blasted across its middle and coal littering the ground; a visceral manifestation of family trauma that Johnnie keeps alive in his perpetuation of his physical care for Daddy.

Sara Burns’ incredibly lithe lighting design forms a living element of the performance next to the magnetic cast, casting the most powerfully subtle swathes and shadows across the action that it appears to dance with them; sometimes leading, sometimes following.

From Iannucci’s first entrance we are charmed, captivated and promised a dynamic story in his precise, intelligently sculpted switches of mood and tone. In such instances it is easy to become so attached to your first actor that the arrival of another feels jarring, but Mousley matches him from the off with her perfectly complementary Hester. The pair hold all the tension of a brother and sister separated by years but bound by undeniable history, embodying the mischievous nature of the play’s humour (“All those in favour of sleep?”) while serving its underlying pain with impressive grace. “I’ll stay. Just in case.” This is a production you would be truly sorry to miss.

Hello and Goodbye is playing at York Theatre Royal Studio until Saturday 30 November, tickets available here.

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