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Scenes from Hello Again
The Blue Elephant Theatre
26th June 2014

★★★☆☆

Joshua Brant and Ella Vize as the College Boy and the Nurse

Photography © Like Photo Like You

How do you compress an entire musical into a mere 40 minutes? Well, the obvious answer is you don't. In this work-in-progress piece, Play Pen Productions have staged only the first three scenes of Michael John LaChuisa's little-known musical Hello Again. LaChiusa's adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde details a series of affairs spanning the 20th century, with a somewhat repetitive and cyclical nature, and this scratch performance at the Blue Elephant is a mere glimpse into what the company hope to eventually pull off.

It's difficult to grasp the book without seeing the entire production, because it consists of seemingly disjointed scenes in which an ever-changing central character takes part in a physical encounter. The domino effect isn't immediately obvious in this excerpt, but we imagine it will be better shown in the full-length version. By taking only the first few scenes and having them stand on their own, it's hugely challenging for all concerned. We don't spend enough time with any of the characters to truly connect with them, and we find some of the context missing.

Although Hello Again is a pleasingly unusual concept, director Tania Azevedo fails to signpost the new characters and scenes clearly. A mirror is used to indicate the passing of the time, but without prior knowledge of the book, its meaning is not immediately obvious. The movement during the changeovers is intended to blur the scenes together, but it becomes confusing and draws our attention away from the main characters. Given how brief the focus is on each pair, we need to completely focus on their story and the significance of it.

Musical director Chris Whitehead uses a lone modern piano to heighten tensions and emotions. The music is effective at setting the mood, but a more diverse range of voices could perhaps aid the stage direction and costumes in better indicating the slowly changing eras. There's nothing to fault in the playing itself, but there's a opportunity here to help bolster the other elements of the show.

Joshua Brant and Ella Vize as the College Boy and the ensemble

Photography © Like Photo Like You

The physicality of the performers has a good edge, bringing their lustful, animalistic nature into prominence. If anything, the performers do this too well, with the ensemble frequently upstaging the leads. Admittedly, this is a scratch performance, but there's a better balance to be found. Whilst the ensemble are talented, they are often distracting.

When we initially meet the Whore (Emilie du Leslay), she reveals a wonderful, full-bodied voice and sets the bar high for the rest of the cast. However, her counterpart, the Solider (Sean Chambers) doesn't manage to match her vocally, which is somewhat disappointing. The intensity of Chambers' acting does go some way to compensate for this, but again, du Leslay outshines him.

Du Lesley's early departure is made up for by the introduction of Ella Vize, who plays the Nurse and exhibits a similarly impressive voice and poise. Although her character has more depth than that of the Soldier, Azevedo could exploit this further. The Nurse's other lover, the College Boy (Joshua Brant), is given far more setting; he has a truly unendearingly advantaged life which, in this otherwise every-man-populated presentation, singles him out as being dissatisfied with what he has rather than dissatisfied with what he lacks. This perhaps makes it easier to feel anger towards him, coupled with a distinct lack of sympathy.

There is still more polish required, but there is certainly enough promising raw material to encourage Play Pen Productions to keep working on Hello Again. The principal challenges for the cast lie in conveying the true essence of their characters in as concentrated a way that the brevity of their scenes allows. The challenges for direction are to set these scenes more emphatically so that the audience is left in far less doubt over what is the focus, meaning, and era of each.

Scenes from Hello Again opened on 24th June and runs until 28th June 2014 at the Blue Elephant Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Oval (Northern)



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