John Keates' piece about modern urban living - which he also designed and directed - has some grandiose aims. Citing the Robert Altman film Short Cuts as an influence, Keates introduces us to a interlocking set of young characters, trying to deal with troublesome relationships, with boring jobs and thwarted ambition.
The play suffers from the gimmick of setting it round a movie script. Promising an evening of multimedia entertainment, the video element amounts to a couple of screens in the front (not easily visible from the centre part of the auditorium). It must have seemed like a bright idea, but in truth, adds very little to the production and becomes a distraction to the story-telling.
The actors certainly don't need such distractions. The young cast throw themselves into a variety of roles with gusto. Some of the accents are a bit hit and miss, but there are some genuinely funny moments.
The centrepiece of Hello You is a troubled threesome where Mark Doyle's Michael desperately tries to accommodate the competing demands of his strait-laced wife, played superbly well by Niky Wardley (who shows her versatility by giving us a sexy Brazilian and a pretentious film critic), and his best mate. It's an old device and anyone who remembers the Likely Lads will have recognised the strategies Michael employs - straight out of the Bob Ferris handbook (he even sports the same tone of wounded hurt).
As mate Frank, Ian Golding does wonderfully. He plays stoned particularly well, but the scenes with the love-lorn Lilian (also well played by Georgina Lamb) will resonate with anyone who's played the dating game - and isn't that all of us? And I'd like to have seen more of Katy Kattan's supermarket merchandiser with a drink problem.
At an early point in the play, the film critic introduces an obscure European cinematic masterpiece at the NFT. She describes how the film eschews narrative, talks of characters who appear suddenly and asks the audience to empathise with them. Is she introducing the movie or talking about this play? It speaks volumes for the enthusiasm of the cast that we end up caring about some of them at all.
Hello You could do with some trimming. Lose some of the walk-on parts and film references and it would be more powerful. In fact, the script could be used as a basis for a film, rather than the other way around; it sounds like it started out as one and something happened along the way. As a result, what we end up with is a halfway house that doesn't truly work.
Still, any play that includes Patti Smith's "Rock and Roll Nigger" as part of the incidental music has got to have something going for it.
- Maxwell Cooter