Hello Goodbye is a Hollywood rom-com come to life

HELLO GOODBYE by the Singapore Repertory Theatre

DBS Arts Centre/Saturday

If your everyday Hollywood rom-com decided to become flesh, it might very well find a bodily home in Hello Goodbye.

This feel-good, candy-floss play by Peter Souter may not charm your socks off entirely, but it relies on a sweet formula it knows should work most of the time: girl meets boy, boy isn't interested at first, opposites attract, boom, fireworks.

For the first half of the play, at least. The second act, set 10 years later, admits that "opposites attract" might really only last that long before the fault lines begin to show.

Type A career woman Juliet (Denise Tan) is all set to move into a new apartment for a fresh start to her romantic troubles - only to find that the geeky Alex (Shane Mardjuki) has arrived there first, with boxes full of meticulous collections: bugs, baseball cards, action figurines, you name it. It's an efficient start for a meet-cute, and evolves into a tangy, if unrealistic, sit-com of a play.

Most of the exposition is shoehorned into the two characters' incessantly twee repartee, as if every conversation they have together must involve witty banter of the highest degree and the perfectly-composed comeback.

Case in point: she rolls her eyes, "Has anyone offered to take your virginity out of sheer pity?" Later, he fights back: "Is it wise for you to breed?"

And then she says: "The moment I drop my front," meaning the emotional front she puts up, "You'll want to see my front." Meaning her rather chesty front. The sceptic in me groaned, but it seems that the die-hard romantics around me mostly found it very cute and funny.

This is Souter's first theatre play - his background is in radio and TV - and it shows. Hello Goodbye is a bit of Richard Curtis with some Friends thrown in. Alex and Juliet are the ultimate flannel-wearing hipster couple, and the apartment they're tussling over contains everything from tiny frying pans to McDonald's Happy Meal toy collections. Alex is even an album-sleeve designer, to add to the play's list of analogue preoccupations.

If this were, indeed, a sit-com with a laugh track, there would be some distance from the fairytale unfolding on stage, but with the theatre there comes that expectation that these living, breathing people should be at least somewhat grounded in real life, and not recurring archetypes dispensing cute lines. Thankfully, Tan and Mardjuki have a good, sparky chemistry, each playing character types they are comfortable with - he is twitchy and awkward, she is scene-chewingly garrulous.

In a play full of punchlines, however, it can be hard to sort the belly laughs from the polite ones. This gets a bit better in the second act, where there is at least some sadness and bitterness to leaven with humour.

Unfortunately the superficial arguments that pepper Alex and Juliet's bickering in this second half feel like the sort of discussions that would come up 10 months into a relationship, and not 10 years later. Souter has his finger on an excellent premise, to turn a romantic chance encounter on its head and transform it into a departure, but this separation is too polite, too well-structured to feel like the frayed end of a well-worn relationship.

But one gets the sense that the play isn't looking for realism here, with its ending going on a decidedly odd trajectory. Hello Goodbye is what exactly what its title says - it is about the pleasantries you exchange when you meet and when you leave, about making an impression at both ends of a relationship for your lover, now ex-, to remember you by.

This makes for a pleasant enough evening out - I wouldn't marry Hello Goodbye, but I'd go on a nice date with it. Maybe with an extra bottle of wine.


Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan

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Where: DBS Arts Centre, 20 Merbau Road

When: Till Sept 26. Wed to Sat at 8pm. No shows on Sun, Mon and Tues (except Sept 8)

Admission: $40 to $60 from Sistic (excludes booking fee; go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)