LONDON (Reuters) - Male protagonists with polar opposite personality traits - one who develops into a drunken bully, the other awkward but ingratiating - show there is more to theater in London than the West End.
London visitors are inevitably drawn to the central theater district, but to the north, Peter Souter's "Hello/Goodbye" has opened at the Hampstead Theatre while south of the Thames the Irish import Richard Molloy's "The Separation" is at Theatre 503.
The more ambitious, and successful, of the two, Molloy's piece zeroes in on newspaper editor Stephen Hanrahan and the three women in his life - the young Irish-American journalist Molly Macdonald who is his latest flame, his estranged wife Marion and their 16-year-old daughter, Gerty.
The play, Molloy's first, is ostensibly about the complications Stephen and Marion face as Roman Catholic Ireland is on the verge of legalizing divorce for the first time, through a referendum.
The real issue is the age-old Irish problem of the drink. Stephen claims to have given it up but in the opening moments he sneaks a glass of whiskey, and by the end he is a raging brute who terrorizes all three women, most especially the perky but essentially innocent Molly who, as non-Irish, has no clue what she's gotten into.
Owen McDonnell excels as Stephen, all charm and wit at the start, and a hideous lout by the end. Able assists come from Carrie Crowley as his knowing Irish wife, Roxanna Nic Liam as the daughter with a mind of her own and Susan Stanley as the Irish-American who may wish she'd never left Kansas.
Souter's "Hello/Goodbye" is altogether sunnier as two polar opposites, the outgoing, quick-tempered Juliet, played by Miranda Raison, and the introverted, nerdy and obsessive Alex, played by Shaun Evans, move into the same flat at the same time, due to a mix-up by estate agents.
The notion that opposites attract is nothing new in romcoms, but Souter's play adds the twist that Alex is a collector of anything from baseball cards to McDonald's Happy Meal toys, as long as he has the complete set.
What his last set will be is the main twist in this play whose energetic and winsome performances by Evans and Raison can't conceal there is no emotional depth to the characters - what you see at the start is what you see at the end. But there is a star turn for a McDonald's Happy Meal wind-up stegosaurus.
(Michael Roddy is the entertainment editor for Reuters in Europe. The views expressed are his own)
(Editing by Stephen Powell)