Hello and Goodbye sets high standard at Abbey Theatre, St Albans

EVERY season without fail, the Company of Ten stages a production which sets the standard against which everything else they do is measured – and this season it has come early.

Athol Fugard’s Hello and Goodbye is currently being performed in the Abbey Theatre Studio and the two-hander, which is hugely demanding for the performers, is undoubtedly the production of the current season so far.

The premise is simple – Hester, who has moved on from her childhood in a poor white area of Port Elizabeth in South Africa, returns to the family home where she is reunited with her younger brother Johnnie.

But the glossy Hester who arrives back in her childhood home has not returned for sentimental reasons as Johnnie is determined to find out.

The result is a highly-charged and emotional drama which swings from Hester and Johnnie’s shared memories of their childhood to unease and suspicion.

Ian Jordan as Johnnie, so emotionally crippled that he actually starts to use his father’s crutches as the play progresses, and Tina Swain as Hester adopt South African accents throughout – no small achievement in itself.

But it is the calibre of both their performances which makes the play – written by South Africa’s foremost playwright – stand out.

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Tina portrays Hester as a confident and brisk woman but as the play progresses the layers are peeled off and her bitterness about both her childhood and her subsequent life emerges. She is an excellent actress and this production is undoubtedly her finest hour.

Ian matches her abilities with his performance as Johnnie, slowly descending into madness until his sister arrives back in his life and seemingly incapable of doing anything to prevent that decline continuing into the future.

Together they are a riveting pair and director Nick Strudwick should take a bow for bringing out the best in both of them.

In his programme notes Nick says that Hello and Goodbye is sometimes regarded as a bleak play of despair but the Company of Ten version takes a far more optimistic view than that. Hester is a survivor and even Johnnie will find some kind of salvation for himself.

Hello and Goodbye runs until Saturday and tickets can be obtained from the box office on 01727 857861 or go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk