Set in 1960s South Africa under apartheid, Hello And Goodbye tells the story of two siblings who cannot escape their upbringing and the world they had no choice about being born in to. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience at the Trafalgar Studios 2.
As you enter the studio, the play’s protagonist Johnny (Rafe Spall) moves around the stage restlessly, creating a feeling of unease amongst the audience, as if you have stumbled into his living room without permission. A solitary figure, Johnny talks directly to the audience in a fast, bi-polar collective of sentences, describing journeys and theories of madness in a completely incoherent way, instantly inviting the audience to make a judgement as to his sanity. Surrounding him are the ruins of what was once a family home – dirty pans, old furniture and faded beige wallpaper that seem to camouflage Johnny as if he too is an intrinstic part of the building. Around the house, religious artefacts adorn the walls – a cross etched into the wall and cherubs glued onto pictures.
As the dying father lies sleeping in the next room, his estranged daughter Hester (Saskia Reeves) returns to visit her family home. In her purple floral dress and patent shoes she creates an alien silhouette against the dilapidated house, an outward sign that she has moved on from the life she once lived there. As the siblings attempt to interact with one another, Hester’s anger and humiliation about her poverty-ridden past are brought to the surface and it becomes clear her intentions are not as pure as she first made out. Coming home to collect her inheritance early, Hester trawls through the boxes of junk that fill the house, evoking powerful memories and secrets of their past. As Hester removes her dress and searches wearing only her pale slip, she too becomes a part of the faded house once again and the history she can’t escape.
Running throughout the play is a strong moral framework – Hester, the prodigal daughter escaped her upbringing to live a life without attachments, filled with nameless places and men, determined to rebel against the religious dogma she had been fed. Johnny on the other hand, has been unable to leave, physically stuck in a life incomparable to living, putting it down to “God’s will”, his spirit broken to the point he cannot even make it down past the end of the street without being drawn back again.
In Hello And Goodbye we watch two adults resort back to children as they realise they have no idea of their true identities beyond the house they grew up in. The playwright, Athol Fugard, manages to inject moments of humour into this eloquently written tragedy, as we watch Johnny become further attached to his past and Hester’s skin crawl with claustrophobia as she cannot wait to finally begin a future.
Hello And Goodbye runs until 17 May at the Trafalgar Studios 2.