Say Hello First, presented by Sydney Independent Theatre Company and Cupboard Love, is based on 20 interviews collected over the period of one year. Exploring the rules of modern relationships, the play’s interview subjects are the past boyfriends of 24-year-old protagonist Dani (Danielle Maas).
The play opens with rapid recreations of these love interrogations by leads Dani and Jo (Joseph Kernahan). This is followed by an exploration of pivotal moments in the relationships between Dani and her former partners where questions of relationship rules, hypocrisies and nuances are explored.
There are a number of strengths to Say Hello First. Audience integration is cleverly interwoven adding electricity to each performance. This interaction sees the two leads momentarily dropping their onstage personas, humanising the work and encouraging audience empathy. Much of the dialogue is smart and truthful with local references adding familiarity. Ambitious use of audio-visual elements complement the frenetic urgency of finding answers to the unanswerable questions being posed.
However, themes of love and relationships are frequently explored in contemporary theatre and to make this topic watchable, works need to be original, compelling and cohesive. While originality is not lacking here, the absence of cohesiveness makes this work less absorbing. A clearer explanation of the play’s origins (the real-life interviews) would provide some of that missing clarity. Definition of genre would also help.
While this may have been intended as a clever and purposeful comment on the nature of actual relationships, that’s not really how it comes across. Instead of remaining consistently relatable, Dani’s downward spiral appears self-indulgent, self-pitying and suddenly more realistic than the remainder of the work. Audience laughter turns to awkwardness as the sharp observations from the opening act turn to real tears.
Despite this, Say Hello First remains a brave and inventive attempt to challenge the traditional methods of playwriting.
BY LEE HUTCHISON
Say Hello First is showing at the Old Fitzroy Theatre until July 27.