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Movie review: Hello and Goodbye – Athol Fugard’s dark reunion gets under the skin

Fugard’s profound examination of a South African family ripped apart by a workplace accident is devastatingly brilliant.

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Quivering with uncertainty … Jo Mousley and Emilio Iannucci in Hello and Goodbye. Photograph: Jane Hobson

Hello. Goodbye. These two small, unassuming words bookend Athol Fugard’s fleeting reunion of an estranged brother and sister. Like the play itself, these mundane utterances conceal a hidden well of emotion and meaning. What looks like a slight domestic drama digs, gradually, into dark and profound territory.

Hester has returned to her hated childhood home in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. When she departed 12 years ago, her younger brother Johnnie was left behind to care for their father – a stern, religious man who was robbed of his living and one of his legs in a workplace accident. Now, Hester is back to confront the past and claim her share of the compensation.

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There’s something Beckettian about Hello and Goodbye’s existential despair and loneliness – particularly in the long, jagged monologues. John R Wilkinson’s gloomy production strengthens this association, situating Fugard’s drama in a blasted memoryscape.

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In Laura Ann Price’s haunting design, the walls of the house are torn and the floor is littered with rubble. It’s as though the explosion that injured Hester and Johnnie’s domineering father has also ripped through the family home, leaving it – and the two siblings – irreparably damaged.

Under Sara Burns’ dim, subtly shifting lighting, Hester and Johnnie wrestle with the remnants of their shared past, which pile up on the stage around them. As Hester, Jo Mousley enters with disdainful poise, only to become more and more undone.

Meanwhile, Emilio Iannucci’s Johnnie quivers with uncertainty, forever on the precipice of mental breakdown. Their struggle is played out with intense, devastating brilliance. It’s not an easy watch, but it works its way under the skin.

• At York Theatre Royal until 30 November.

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