Produced by Coney, UK, November 12-17, 90mins
Voila! Europe Festival, London | November 12-17, 2020
Nick Awde | THE X REPORT
It’s easy to forget how phones have changed in technology and form with radical frequency, and yet the way they connect and impact our lives has remained unaltered. And, part autobiography, part history lesson, part therapy session, that’s the thesis of Tassos Stevens’ solo exploration of the role the phone has played in our lives since its invention.
I say solo, but it’s hard to think of a show that uses Zoom as a tool to bring people together in quite the way Telephone does – Stevens’ storytelling being akin in many ways to how, say, Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing weaves the audience into the narrative from the outset.
Stevens already has you enter a world within a world with his personal invitation to join him in the Coney Zoom Bar where Cole Porter and Ella fill the background and all are warmly encouraged to have a drink on the host and pre-order for the interval while waiting to be called to the main show.
Across two acts that use every trick in the book to engage, it’s hard to describe Telephone without giving it all away. That’s not being coy about the plot, but simply any spoiler is bound to take away the joy of participation and the discovery that comes with it.
On the surface Stevens tells the tale of the humble telephone: its genesis and changing anatomy, old style phone numbers and local codes, directory enquiries and exchange operators, trunk calls and wrong numbers, crossed lines, ansafones, texts. He wants to know what they say about us – and, crucially, how do they make us feel?
Quizzes and role play give the audience their own role in this narrative, their mobiles commandeered into Stevens’ dreamcatcher scenes, each sparking a personal story that propel what becomes a parallel history of telephones and his family – quirky, funny, informative, mysterious, poignant where even an empty chair has something to communicate.
You realise that absolutely nothing is throwaway here – like hypnotic suggestion (there’s even a mind number trick at one point), every stray fact is designed to resonate, every loose end has a connection. Telephones may be an extension of our lives, but their networks mean nothing without the human relationships that bring them to life, evidenced by the audience breakaway sessions that produced some truly impactful stuff – some comic, some truly heartrending.
I suspect you’re either going to get this or you’re not, but even if taken as a simple triviafest, never has Zoom theatre seemed so live and immediate, where the wifi glitches and Stevens reading from a script simply add to this feelgood show.