A celebration of ‘the bookends of adult life’, Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday is the latest piece of verbatim theatre from acclaimed director Roslyn Oades. The play explores two birthdays – 18ths and 80ths – and the reflections on life that these milestones bring about.
The piece is built from a selection of interviews with people around these birthdays, carefully cut together to create a smorgasbord of experiences, memories and anticipations. There are six actors – three old (Jim Daly, Evelyn Krape, Roger Oakley) and three young (Diana Perini, Matthew Connell, HaiHa Le) – yet they all play 18 and 80 year olds with ease, slipping back and forth from walking frames to raves. Krape and Connell play their opposite ages particularly effectively, carrying the emotionality of the interviews over into their physicality, using small movements to punctuate critical points of humour and tragedy. These movements were directed by Nat Cursio who has translated the aural interviews into characters which the actors can fully inhabit.
The set, designed by Christina Hayes, is a familiar yet ambiguous space, incongruous against the red seats, cool bricks and wooden scaffolding of the Beckett Theatre. Depending on the age of the audience member, it can seem like a high school, a community centre or an aged care home. What at first seems to be a drab and unnecessary set dressing quickly complements the actors as they shift from young to old and back again. The set becomes both transitional and suspended, a place of marking time and no time at all.
Each line is fed to the actors by a pair of large headphones that play the interviews, designed to help them mimic the voices of the interviewees. It’s a technique which has varying degrees of success with each actor; Le occasionally struggles to maintain the low gentle tones of a 92 year old woman yet Daly has no trouble echoing an 18 year old girl.
Everything said on stage was said in these interviews and the realness of them remains in the production. It has a light-hearted feel and it does successfully celebrate each end of the spectrum of life. This is not to say that the show, or the interviews, lack in deep themes or poignant moments, rather Oades has crafted a series of gentle ups and downs that capture experience. There is no narrative to the piece, no message, and it would feel forced and hammy if there was. Instead, Oades lets the interviewees speak for themselves.
Hello, Goodbye & Happy Birthday is on at the Malthouse Theatre as part of the Malthouse Theatre Season and the Melbourne Festival. It opens on Saturday, October the 11th and runs until the 26th. Tickets are $60, $50 for concession or seniors card holders and $30 for students and under 30s. They are available from www.malthousetheatre.com.au