14 Sep 2015: The Singapore Repertory Theatre stages its very first rom-com, but the bland production fails to arouse any sort of warm, fuzzy feelings in us
The Singapore Repertory Theatre is known for staging some pretty hard-hitting stuff, but for the first time in its 22-year history, the company decided to delve into a much more whimsical world of romantic comedy by performing Peter Souter’s Hello Goodbye. It’s a refreshing change, especially since the local theatre scene is currently dominated by works that deal with more serious topics. But while the idea sounds appealing, the choice of play leaves much to be desired.
Hello Goodbye’s fundamental flaw lies in its script. It begins with two strangers, Juliet (Denise Tan) and Alex (Shane Mardjuki), both moving into the same apartment on the same day. Rather than getting their incompetent estate agents to sort the mess out, they choose to squabble like children for the entire hour of the first act – which culminates in a make-out session and the curtains coming down just before their clothes fall off. The second act takes place ten years down the line, when the couple is on the brink of a divorce. It makes us wish that we hadn’t nipped to the bathroom during the intermission, as the most important, tender part of the play seems to have taken place then.
Since we didn’t get to see how Juliet and Alex’s relationship developed, it’s impossible to empathise with them when they fall out of love. The premise of the play is that opposites attract – but we struggle to find anything attractive here. Every play requires the audience to suspend a certain degree of disbelief, but their match is so improbable that it leaves us feeling completely incredulous. Tan portrays the spoilt, crazy, selfish Juliet perfectly well (after all, she did play a similar role in Pangdemonium’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice a couple of years ago), and Mardjuki is great at playing up all the quirks and quiet eccentricity of Alex – and yet there’s almost no chemistry between them. In fact, it almost seems like they couldn’t quite believe that they lasted ten years together, either. Their exchanges are often predictable and their jokes are more cringey than witty.
The production could have used a much stronger direction from Lisa Spirling. We don’t see the point in bringing onstage the two secondary characters – Juliet’s ex-boyfriend (David Howard) and a pretty auctioneer (Amanda Tee) – for instance, as they appear for a grand total of around five minutes each, and their physical presence adds little to the story.
Don’t get us wrong. We love a good rom-com as much as anyone, but the play simply doesn’t have enough charm or soul to keep us engaged for two hours. It’s by no means a terrible production, and there are one or two rather heart-warming scenes in the second half, but we’re not sure what to take away from the production, and we certainly didn’t leave with the warm, fuzzy feelings that we were looking for.