For such a clean and tidy venue, it is perhaps ironic that the Hope Theatre should be hosting Hello Again, a musical that contains so much sex it threatens on occasion to be nothing more than a romp through the decades of the twentieth century through song. This, ahem, intimate space is extremely tight for a show of this nature. Audience members sat adjacent to the aisles were knocked about a little during scene changes, though I hasten to add that any and all bedroom action was firmly enacted centre stage.
This does not take anything away from the fact that in a small venue above a pub, most of the audience finds itself within touching distance from actors ‘making love’. Make of this what you will, though I got the distinct feeling it was supposed to make us giggle sheepishly and feel ever so slightly uncomfortable. On the other hand, to get through the entire musical in a single act, intercourse is always – always – too quick, an amusing point that never got old, and emphasising (more than it should) the ‘Again’ in the show’s title. There’s no foreplay and nothing is slow.
The cast list is deceptive in that the characters are only known by their occupations (The Writer, The Nurse, The Senator, and so on), though the narrative more often than not reveals their actual names. There’s a particularly amusing scene where one character confuses another with someone else they have clearly slept with previously, invoking the snappy response: “Stop calling me Sammy!”
The seduction of one character by another in practically every scene, plus the subsequent sexual relations, inevitably gets rather repetitive and formulaic. However, a strong and solid cast carries the show, despite a variable storyline – some scenes are more convincing than others.
There are some excellent sound effects throughout – and I am not talking just about bedroom noises. The show maintains momentum by offering its audiences step changes in musical style as we gallop from decade to decade (and not in chronological order, either). The scene changes are seamless, and sometimes very quick indeed – at one point the screams of drowning people from a sunk ship in one era (yes, mid-Atlantic, April 1912, you know the one) rapidly become the screams of people partying in a nightclub in another. The whole thing flows together so effortlessly that, without even the mention of any sort of protection, one wonders how the various characters didn’t all end up with gonorrhoea or syphilis or something equally unpleasant.
“Love is a terribly confusing ordeal, isn’t it?” asks The College Boy (Joshua LeClair). Indeed it is, and this show makes the distinction between the act of sexual intercourse and the much deeper and more complicated matter of love itself. Thea Jo Wolfe performs an excellent solo (I mean singing a powerful song, not a scene involving touching herself) as The Young Wife, though the portrayal in a show of yet another marriage going awry left me thinking to myself, ‘Here we go again.’ There have to be some married couples out there who enjoy regular sex in a loving and stable relationship. They can’t possibly all be candidates for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Can they?
Anyway, for a musical, it is, overall, remarkably realistic. What is acceptable in a particular generation and context may be highly inappropriate in another. There’s a snag in that it ends rather abruptly, but I suppose that’s better than a show that feels too long. But what’s most impressive about this musical is how its story is so specific – two characters in each scene, in a certain place, time and relationship – and yet so universal. This is ambitious theatre, and although logically speaking it makes little sense, it’s packed full of feeling. This revival is perfectly cast and a delightful success, and it’s great to be able to say ‘hello again’ to Hello Again.
Review by Chris Omaweng
words & music: MICHAEL JOHN LACHIUSA / director: TANIA AZEVEDO
The first British revival of the cult musical
The depths of sexuality and sexual attraction are here for the asking in this musical fantasy suggested by Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. As though seen through the lens of a combination time machine and bawdy, old-time kinescope, Hello Again criss-crosses beds and jumps from decade to decade, intimately examining the painful secrets that drive characters into each other’s arms and towards the bruising effects of reckless passion. With a score that saturates the mind, Hello Again has an unforgettable, dreamlike quality—and all the luxuriance of an insistent seduction.
After receiving MTM nominations for “Best New Musical” and “Best New Book” for The Picture House and a sold-out run of their performance-art production Oedipus Renewed, Play Pen Productions presents the first British Revival of this cult musical. Presented by arrangement with Josef Weinberger Limited.
The performance lasts 90mins without interval and contains nudity, strong language and sexual content. Over 18s only.
The Hope Theatre
207 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1RL