Review: No Hello

by Jane

This review contains spoilers.

Sometimes, it is the people you go to the theatre with which really make the show.  Like when you see a play about the end of the world with a group of friends you meet while studying engineering at university.  Those logical plot holes have nowhere to hide from us.

Such as: when you are engineering your underground bunkers to house people during the apocalypse, why is the FIRST thing you put in there not a computer?  Why is the automatic locking system allowed to be activated before the bunkers are stocked with food?  What sort of apocalypse is expected to happen where people can reenter the earth in twelve months?  How are these people not suffering from scurvy?  From Vitamin D deficiency?  Why is the only mode of communication to the other bunkers a single telephone?  Why is this telephone locked in a box?  Why wasn’t unlocking the box the FIRST thing the group did when entering the shelter?  And if not first, why would it take ten months?  Why did someone swallow the key to said box?

In Alan Grace’s No Hello, these plot holes perhaps wouldn’t be so glaringly obvious if the characters could sustain the implausible situation.  But why, when subjected to the end of the world, must we always be subjected to horrible people?  Surely someone nice could survive.

The neat set (design by Dee Easton, also director) divides the playing space between the cluttered mess – the VHS tapes (why so dated?), note papers and wine bottles – of Johnny’s (Matthew Crook) privately owned bunker, and the straight lines and order of Anna’s (Bianka Feo) public shelter.  It is in many ways a reflection of the characters.

Johnny is the only character provided any sort of personality or defining qualities outside of someone enduring the end of the world.  He is at least provided an obsession in movies, and is afforded dreams that extend outside the walls of the bunker he is living in.  The female characters are afforded no such luxuries: at most, the shrill Anna is afforded complaints against the single repeated Leonard Cohen song she must listen to.  She only dreams of the walls of the place she must now live in.

With Crook’s strong and bizarrely endearing performance – as he squirms and writhes trying to quote a song or a movie, as he dejectedly looks upward when Anna becomes particularly annoying – the irritating Johnny becomes the only relatable character.  Yet this is almost an uncomfortable humour: you laugh at and with Crook, because without him there wouldn’t be very much to do at all, not because he is actually a likable character.

Feo’s Anna is quickly tiresome, with no redeeming qualities and no real personality to speak of.  She never seems to exhibit compassion, and while the story of her rape allows understanding of the murder of the men in the bunker, it still neither provide empathy nor forgiveness for other choices made during the course of the play.  Neither of the other two female characters, Sarah and Heather (both played by Laura Brenko) are afforded much of a divergent characterisation, and neither stick around long enough to have any true effect on Johnny and Anna that could be explored without their partner on stage.

While the characters are unlikable, dialogue rarely jolts and is littered with some great one-liners, helped along greatly by Crook’s performance.  This, along with the visual imagery of divided space spanned by a shared bed, and the blocking within this space, sustains the play further than the plot and characters might.   But No Hello left me feeling nothing but amusement from sitting with friends, dissecting just where it went wrong.

Adelaide Duende Collective presents No Hello by Alan Grace.  Design and direction by Dee Easton.  With Matthew Crook, Bianka Feo and Laura Brenko.  At the Bakehouse Theatre, Adelaide Fringe 2011.  11/3/11.  Season Closed.

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