The range of theatrical experiences emerging online is truly impressive. So far, I’ve tracked down a missing woman, been pulled into a whistleblower’s shady investigations and summoned up storms alongside a Shakespearean spirit. But Coney’s latest show, Telephone, is in a whole new genre: an entrancingly low-key combination of storytelling and shared conversation which explores – and marvels at – the history of telecommunications.
Artistic director Tassos Stevens begins the show by inviting us to the Coney Bar, where we’re encouraged to do a bit of “chair dancing” as music tinkles in the background. After a few gentle smiles and wiggles, Stevens produces a washcloth and asks us to imagine the theatre curtain rising. From then, Stevens still sits at his desk chair yet the atmosphere feels different. The collective will of imagination – and shared effort of communication – is beginning to work its magic.
With a slightly woozy sense of direction, Stevens describes some pivotal moments in the evolution of telecommunications, including the first phone call in 1876 and first text message in 1992. We’re presented with a directory of numbers with bizarre titles like “Distant Friend” and “A Moment of Vertigo”. The audience takes it in turns to “dial” a number and Stevens patches us through to a cluster of public and private stories, all of which underline the fragility and joy of human connection.
In Act Two we share our own stories. We discuss the first phone calls we made and the unexpected conversations that changed our lives. With very little prompting, and a fitful internet connection, we open ourselves up to near-total strangers. And isn’t that something to celebrate and honour?