Voila! Europe 2020: Telephone at the Cockpit Theatre Online
Arriving serendipitously during a nationwide lockdown, Tassos Stevens’s Telephone delves into the history and philosophy behind modes of distant communication. While this niche premise could have the potential to be arduous, Coney UK’s live-interactive online performance rings brilliantly with imagination and insight.
It’s an extremely simple format. Participants are invited to grab a pen, a pad of paper and a drink for a 90-minute Zoom call hosted informally by Stevens in a one-man, one-office setup (presented as part of the Voila! Theatre Festival 2.0). The production is as pared back as you can get: the “stage curtain” is a washcloth pulled from the writer’s pocket; an empty chair is the only prop. With a few stock images, the performer transports viewers back to a time when one might have crouched by a corded phone, pulled down the numbers on the dial and waited to have their called connected by a switchboard operator.
Using this conceit, the host patches the audience through to an eccentrically titled list of extensions at their request. As the first act progresses, the writer warms to his theme through the selected mishmash of historical transcripts, personal anecdotes and fun quiz rounds. Fortunately, Telephone is less a stuffy lecture and more a sentimental meditation on the ubiquitous titular device. In this spirit, Stevens’s sincere, self-effacing, ever so slightly awkward persona reaches out unobtrusively to build connections with (and between) the spectators.
The resulting experience is subtly disarming but effective in getting everyone involved. An interval (referred to wryly as “Act 2” by the playwright) allows participants to spend time with fellow callers (if they wish). In last night’s performance, there were some very touching admissions from audience members about phone-calls which brought devastating news into their lives.
That complete strangers from across several countries might share such nostalgic, hilarious or traumatic moments together is a testament to this unassuming, innovative show. For its ability to leave you humoured, informed and reflective, Stevens’s call is worth answering.
Telephone is available to view online as part of Viola! Europe Festival on 13th and 17th November 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.