Don’t Talk to Strangers
Forge – The Vaults
Reviewed – 27th February 2020
“strikes the perfect balance between fun and thought provoking”
A mix-tape made for aliens, with a love story embedded in its formation. That is the history of the Golden Record – the message sent out to aliens on Voyager 1 and 2 – the legacy of which theatre collective Hot Cousin sets out to interrogate and play with in this wonderfully immersive and eclectic piece of theatre. Part of VAULT festival, Don’t Talk to Strangers sees Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (both leads on the project) reimagined as dreamy lovers who croon to each other in space puns and describe how their love influenced the record of humanity they created.
As it pastiches both their love story and their creative vision, the show aims to explore the power dynamics behind the record – the omissions, the inevitable colonialism – but does so in a way that blends seamlessly into wider questions of what it means to be human. How could we ever represent the infinite variety of our whole species on just one record, is the question the play asks, and it is an incredibly effective one.
The show takes the form of a series of vignettes featuring Sagan, Druyan, a manic interviewer, and a mysterious pink alien. Some are silly, some are dramatic, and some veer away from dialogue altogether into moments of pure emotion, dance, and sound. Cast together, they are weird, experimental theatre at its finest.
Each member of the company takes on a role – Elana Binysh (Interviewer), Stephanie Fuller (Druyan), Madeleine Lewis (Alien), and Ally Poole (Sagan) – but those feel like a limited way to describe their participation in the performance. All depict more than simple characters; they are convincing, inviting, and make the audience feel truly involved in what could have easily been repetitive and overdone scenes.
From the beginning, the show emphasises sound will be important – after all, that is what was sent out on the record – and it provides a subtle backbone for the show. Classical music, disco, remixed breathing, wailing, and other sounds fuse together as the show goes on, all complimented by groovy disco ball lighting. The staging is simple, with a record player often the focus, but allows the cast plenty of movement to explore their multi-dimensional parts.
All in all, in its short but sweet running time Don’t Talk to Strangers strikes the perfect balance between fun and thought provoking. And if you leave with nothing else, at least you’ll have witnessed a jazzy galactic funk remix of Beethoven’s 5th symphony that you didn’t know was missing from your life.
Reviewed by Vicky Richards