Writers: Adam Barnard, Laura Mugridge and Paul O’Mahony
Is Now a Good Time is part of an interactive genre that is increasingly popular – audio theatre delivered via phone call. The conceit is a market research survey, and the caller, Sam, opens our conversation by rather diffidently mentioning that participation ensures a place in the prize draw for a Japanese tea set, a flute, or a year’s supply of Greek yoghurt. This very much sets the tone: playful, and rather quaint. The questions of the survey are similarly whimsical: what colour of washing up liquid do you prefer? What scent? And do you like pickles?
Initially the piece seems quite charming, but rather slight, and when the seed is planted for the structuring narrative device – the mention of an office crush – the trajectory of the show seems inevitable. Sam’s gentleness prompts a thought of the romance between Dawn and Tim, the two unassuming characters at the heart of The Office. Soon enough, there’s another mention of the ‘colleague’: as Sam reminiscences warmly – albeit apologetically – about tastes they have in common.
The call ends abruptly – you might wonder what might be happening at the other end. This idea of the narrative continuing in real time beyond the ken of the audience is very appealing, but the pre-show information has informed us that there will be a number of calls within the allocated hour, so we are primed to expect interruptions. This clarification may be necessary, but it does reduce the element of surprise, and reinforces the artifice of the situation.
The next call is from Alex, whom, we deduce immediately, is the cherished colleague. Apologising profusely, he picks up the survey. The questions continue to be off beat and gentle and in his turn, he drifts into fond reminiscence about a ‘colleague’. Here the questions become a little more personal, but, having won our trust through the genial humour and the sweet natures of both characters, we are happy to dig deeper.
There’s a further sequence of calls and something really delightful occurs – it’s important not to spoil the surprise – it was a genuinely beautiful moment, which made this reviewer both laugh out loud and gulp back tears. Now, putty in the actors’ hands, we are asked to contribute to the story, and, despite our defences and despite the artifice, we feel compelled to help.
There is inevitably a slightly stressful element to any interactive work of this kind, with the anxiety of social performance at odds with the passivity of the expectation of entertainment, but here the stress is harnessed in a really strategic and productive way, with a sweetly emotional pay off for the audience. The audio format works well, with room for the narrative to bloom in the privacy of one’s mind – although the pre-show information (including an image of the actors) slightly cramps full imaginative freedom.
It’s a delight all in all: and beautifully British in its buttoned up, very apologetic way. The slightness, which initially seemed rather dubious, is actually part of the appeal of the experience, as it reaffirms and celebrates the everyday and the ordinary.
Runs here until 24 May 2021