Writer and Director: Tassos Stevens
Built on the power of a good story, Telephone is a one-man show that considers the drawbacks and possibilities of telecommunication.
We are taken, via Zoom, into the Coney Zoom Bar. Our host Tassos Stevens is waiting for us. As we all begin to make eye contact with each other, Stevens explains that this will be a “gently interactive” theatrical experience.
The pull of the theatre experience is borne out in the first few minutes of introductions. With ‘callers’ logging on from across the world – The Netherlands, Greece, America – it is a reminder of how theatre connects.
Telephone, a self-proclaimed experiment in live story-telling, asks the audience to select telephone numbers, which correspond to stories and anecdotes. Stevens weaves the factual (encompassing telephones, satellites and the fascinating biography of Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant) with stories from his own life. Stories of coincidence, connections made and missed. Stevens asks the audience to recreate the psychological exercise of the ‘empty chair’ – to imagine a friend from their contacts, someone perhaps they have been out of touch with recently. This scene is given an added weight, as we tie in feelings surrounding the pandemic. Some of us are in lockdown, others are not.
Stevens discusses his own history – attempts during his life to find his grandfather. Tassos is not afraid to be vulnerable as audience members select stories for him to tell that become increasingly personal. The intimacy between audience and performer here is absolute. There are no barriers, no curtains. What is fascinating about Telephone is that the audience not only dictate the story, but the order in which it is told. Subjects and tones, light and shade, create a unique experience every night. The performance is never the same, and the audience gets to witness a sequence of moments that will never be replayed.
Being interactive, audience participation is an essential part of the evening. It acts as the kinetic push, moving the evening forward. But Stevens creates a space where audience members feel comfortable to contribute as much as they want, or to sit and observe. Both are keenly encouraged. The ‘wow’ moment of the evening is the interval. Stevens divides the audience into smaller break-out groups to chat before the next Act. Finding yourself with, not strangers any more, but people you didn’t know an hour ago, is extraordinary. The opportunities for connection – and how every connection has the potential to change you – is really brought to a head at this point. The commonalities, as we recall experiences, are more striking than the differences.
Towards the end of the performance, Stevens asks us to consider connection from the perspective of “sudden dislocation” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a story-telling experiment, and one that exists because, and in defiance of, a global health crisis. There is, in this performance, the suggestion that connection does not always depend on proximity. A sense of the familiar can be found in the most unlikely place and time. In Telephone the experiment becomes a theatre of ideas: created, imagined, remembered. It is a poetically-charged celebration of memory, and will leave you wondering what call to make next.
Available until 17 November 2020