With its cacophony of phone noises and recorded messages, Phone Play is not a show for those who travel in the "quiet" coach. It is, however, an amusing concoction of crossed wires, and is presented in shrill, ringing tones by a bright young Toronto company.
The playwright and director, Evan Placey, has created an imaginative, ensemble, piece for eight characters who are addicted to their mobile phones - their handsets of various shapes, sizes and colours representing hotlines to a kind of phone-hell. There's a chaotic frenzy about this comedy, a maze of cross-talk mixing inane chatter with callers desperate to communicate, while the intrusion of robotic tele-marketers threatens the cordless joy of telephone sex.
The babble of human life is enthusiastically spoken and emphatically signalled by this highly charged cast, their body language and faces expressing as much as their stream of words. Phone Play sends you off quietly grateful for the privacy of an answering machine, while reaching swiftly for the "off" button of your keypad.
Phones ring back in time to 1919 in Switch Triptych. Three New York switchboard exchange operators are unable to connect to much, least of all the idea that advancing technology spells redundancy. Adriano Shaplin's latest creation for The Riot Group is a torrent of words dictated, somewhat soullessly, into a barren acoustic kaleidoscope. The three "hello" girls, the mouthy one lapsing into Italian (which adds to the general tangle of verbiage and repetitive underscoring), work the exchange boards of the Bell Atlantic telephone company under the supervision of their "wire chiefs".
The empowerment of female workers, the early stirrings of trades-union activity and the competition between immigrant and native communities are compressed into a torrent of quickfire exchanges. Central to this is a kind of running commentary from the mouthy, inebriated, Italo-American, Lucille. But it's played in such a curious way by Stephanie Viola that it becomes tiresome trying to follow her tangents.
Sparks fly, but there's too much tinny telephonic talkback and too many obscure extension-leads for the word-driven content of the play to make a clear connection. There are 21 common complaint codes in the Bell Atlantic manual. Bad connections ("BCN") and bells don't ring ("BDR") are the most relevant ones for this play.
'Phone Play', Gilded Balloon Teviot (0131-668 1633) to 28 August (not 16 and 23), 3.15pm. 'Switch Triptych', Assembly@ George Street (0131-226 2428) to 29 August, 12.15pm, and Soho Theatre, London W1 (0870 429 6883) 6 September to 8 OctoberReuse content