A huge, ugly fissure runs across the back of the set. It’s an early indication that the family who live at 57A Valley Road, Port Elizabeth are irredeemably broken and scarred.
First performed in Johannesburg in 1965, Athol Fugard’s Hello and Goodbye charts the reunion between siblings Johnnie (Emilio Iannucci) and Hester (Jo Mousley) after a long separation.
As the play opens, Johnnie clearly isn’t coping well. Iannucci poignantly conveys Johnnie’s mental torment through restless movement and meandering tales of lonely days and tedious bus journeys. His emotional desolation is emphasised through John R. Wilkinson’s direction and mirrored in Laura Ann Price’s set: she creates an almost post-apocalyptic space where everything seems bent out of shape.
Once Hester arrives, Sara Burns’ symbolic lighting design suggests the power dynamics between brother and sister. Mousley’s Hester stands proudly in the light, cloaked in the protective warmth of her fur coat, while Iannucci’s scruffy, dirty Johnnie lurks in the shadows.
It isn’t long before Hester sheds the pretence of cosy respectability. As she strips down to a flimsy nightie, the extent of her emotional vulnerability becomes apparent. Mousley gives a breath-taking performance, as Hester flits between barbed dark humour and raw confessions steeped in sadness.
There is something undeniably timely about Hester’s story of hopes dashed by exploitative men “in a hundred Johannesburg rooms”. But at times the characters’ concerns with retribution and resurrection feel grounded in the religious sensibilities of a bygone era.