SOPHIE CUNDALL reviews Ok, Bye at the VAULT Festival.

In RedBellyBlack’s Ok Bye, directed by Vicki Baton, physical theatre innovatively combines live dialogue and voiceovers to bring us a tale of what we really mean when we say Ok, Bye. The piece bravely tackles what is essentially two plays for the price of one, interspersing a moving tale of the grief of three siblings who’ve just lost their mother, and a selection of verbatim interviews and anecdotes collected from the public. The piece is minimally staged, allowing the script to drive the narrative – perhaps more so than the physical theatre elements which occasionally border on clumsy and incomprehensible in relation to the story. The piece is moving, twisting and turning through both comic and profound tales of ageing, grief and even weight loss, but at times fails to make us feel as we should, due to the rush between characters and stories.

The two stories that constitute the body of the play are perhaps best seen separately since, though they appear to centre on the same theme, they don’t always merge fluidly together. The play revolves around the three siblings, and the moment when the children become the grownups and our indestructible parents are no longer there. Moments of tender recollection and of bitterness and regret are juxtaposed with the rollercoaster of emotions which we experience when we grieve. The onstage guitarist’s tonal shifts pull us in different directions at the snap of a finger; however sometimes this is done a little abruptly, and there are a few sadder moments that could have been left to hang longer. The audience – which ought to feel and experience the performance as a collective – do not have the chance to reflect and catch up with its emotional response.

Photo courtesy of Robert Boulton.

The second series of narratives provides a light spell of comic relief, painful human stories of love, loss, defeat — and even an Australian cult! The publicity for Ok, Bye suggested the stories would stem from all walks of life, but the show lacked the diversity to make this promise a reality. Where was the queerness, the people of colour? The all white, 3/4 male cast speaks for itself. This small troupe illustrates a far wider issue in the theatre industry. Surely we seek to identify with the characters and stories on stage – so why make it hard to relate by having a socially unrepresentative cast? That said, there are moments that are genuinely side-splitting: gender swapping as caricatures of a teenage girl and boy who’ve just lost their dog and whose parents have split up, or the reformed Christian who left his wife through a series of post-it notes… Human-beings are exposed for their bizarre, but usually well meaning behaviour around loss and goodbyes. However, perhaps a title relevant to family relationships would have been more powerful – the title Ok, Bye seems a little incongruous with such profound stories of loss.

Photo courtesy of Robert Boulton.

Ok, Bye’s most impressive element was the acting. The performers morph fluidly between ages, genders and experiences produced a (albeit limited) cacophony of figures. Kate Goodfellow stands out as the oldest sister of the three siblings, who delicately balance the vulnerability of puberty with the sudden survival instinct that kicks in when she has to step up to fill the maternal role. Sam Cornforth is captivating as the younger brother, bordering on the edge of adulthood while still being seen and treated as the youngest of the group. The play is fundamentally about the characters and the relationships between them. Humans need other humans: this is the message we take away.

The play passes a pleasant hour, though its shortfall in diversity and lack of coherence between the two threads of the plot lets it down. The ambition of the young company shines through, however, and the potential for a more powerful production is there. Above all, Ok, Bye is a charming piece that reminds us of what it is to be human, to love, and to lose  — and to become part of an Australian cult.

Ok, Bye ran from 7th-11th March. Find more information here.

Featured image courtesy of Robert Boulton.