Theatre via Telephone-review
Candle House collective, and Evan Neiden (the creator) are clawing (see what I did there?) at the frontiers of the artform we call theatre, with mixed results. With the future of theatre looking rocky at best and doomed at worst, they, like various bright-minded folks, have used the technological wizardry at their fingertips to push the limits of what art can be.
Their website describes the experience as part of “an anthology of remote, standalone, one-act encounters for a solo participant” (basically what mere mortals like us would call a phone call). Despite the rather complex rigmarole of setting up the necessary details (with them working on American time), never mind whatever I must have paid for the 32 minute call, the experience was one of a kind (and at a pound a minute you would blooming well hope so!).
The novelty lies in the veracity of a phone call. We are used to being fooled, mesmerised and lied to while watching a stage or screen production, and this extends to music or an audiobook. But phone calls are practical, personal things, rarely expected to be grounds for deception or unreal fear.
Enter claws! Vincent D’Avanzo as the solo voice actor admirably portrays a terrified teenager stuck in an empty house and doing battle with a……… (sorry no spoilers) in his closet. John Ertman’s directorial choices, such as simple sound effects and some lovely vocal work, are used to plunge us into a world of isolation. This is a thoroughly modern horror story set in the lockdown age: the recommendation that we sit in a dark room with headphones provokes a deeply personal experience. D’Avanzo deals with suggestions and plot changes quickly, and overall this is an exciting concept for diehard theatre and/or horror fans, not for the faint of heart – ‘beware ye who enter here’ etc.
So that’s ‘the good’. However, as with any new medium, some things could be improved. Firstly the to-ing and fro-ing with Google Hangouts, timings etc could be streamlined. Also in this vein, the price is rather steep for what is delivered. The plot is a touch pedestrian and a little jumpy. Acting‑wise it could do with a little more modulation of level. The American need to draw out a rather blunt, didactic message from the narrative makes for some uncomfortable ‘personal epiphanies’ that are close to schmaltz (inward shudder).
Lastly, there is the unfortunate and hopefully unintentional parallel that could be drawn with a suicide helpline, which some might find in bad taste. This, coupled with a section that felt rather close to therapy as I was asked about my personal life, means the show is flying close to the wind. Within the horror setting the loneliness of the audience is fitting, but I would imagine the concept would flounder on other themes, as the cathartic group experience of theatre is lost.
But are these merely speed bumps on the road to a fresh mutation of our beloved drama? Perhaps, but I was engaged throughout, scared throughout and conflicted constantly. If controversy and a good dose of anxiety is your style then settle into your dark room, pick up the call, and hold onto your skin (but don’t blame me if you can’t sleep for a week).