“a charming snapshot of a unique point in history wherein the concept of ‘connection’ was redefined”
A verbatim play based on the true story of a lone phone booth situated in the middle of the Mojave Desert in 1990s North America, Citizen Band Radio’s play Mojave follows Godfrey ‘Doc’ Daniels on his journey to discover this strange landmark. The play opens on the phone box in question covered in a white sheet, against which a stylised desert is projected. These projections, combined with the live DJ-ed music, do well at plunging us into the action from the very start of the piece and continue to do so throughout. The setting of the nineties is important and rightly emphasised through radio interviews, music excerpts and a particularly commendable audio-visual presentation to show the evolution of a website at a time when the internet started to come into its own.
A disadvantage that can arise with verbatim theatre is in the structuring of the play – life doesn’t tend to conform to a standard three-act format after all – and there are certainly moments where Mojave feels a little too still, plotwise. The story starts strong with a focus on Doc. A fantastically choreographed movement piece reveals the monotony of his daily life and the way in which his obsession with the phone booth leaks into it. As it continues, however, the choreography starts to feel more like padding put in to lengthen the running time. The second half of the play consists largely of a montage of different calls to and from the booth and, though at first interesting, sloppy transitions combined with a stagnant plot line steadily work to undo the immersion that the first half of the play has done so well to create.
In spite of this, the ensemble works well at multi-roling a whole host of different characters. They switch smoothly, even when shifting between accents (Scottish, French, German, American) at speed. The dialogue, lifted from transcripts of Doc’s recordings and phone calls made to and from the booth, lend an interesting and unusual form of realism to the play; not realism in the harsh or brutalistic sense, but something softer and more comfortable to observe. The cast reliably hit their comedic beats and the moments of awkward interaction between strangers on a phone line are especially well executed. It is with this relaxed and humourous tone that the play manages to offer a charming snapshot of a unique point in history wherein the concept of ‘connection’ was redefined.
“an impressive debut that manages to strike a chord whilst taking artistic risks”
In the programme notes for their debut show, Contingency Theatre suggest that, ‘We are more comfortable yet more insecure than we’ve ever been’. It’s a fact that’s hard to argue with. Expectation looms over our heads like storm clouds whilst we attempt to convince everyone that, in our world, everything is sunny and bright. Nowhere is this truer than in our working lives, where the pressure of success is the source of secret anxiety. Part sharp-tongued satire and part hypnotic piece of physical theatre, George tackles this very real and relevant experience in an evocative and otherworldly manner.
The show traces George’s journey from his idle days in the village to his arrival in the city. Initially reluctant to leave his old life behind, he soon becomes swept up in cosmopolitan life – but to what end? Is this what George really wants? Will conforming to society’s expectations bring him happiness?
What makes the piece so striking is how closely it engages with our innermost fears. George would rather play in the village than go to the city, but such lack of ambition is unthinkable. He is tormented by his mother and friends, who chide him with phrases like, ‘You don’t want to get left behind, do you?’ Despite living the life he wants, insecurity causes him to abandon it for the sake of conventionality. His friends Nick and Cam are anxious and eager to please. Their worth is determined by J, the mysterious boss who shapes their careers; without him, they have no sense of self. The way in which they strive for validation through success – whilst losing themselves in the process – captures this all-too-common inner conflict perfectly.
It’s hard to believe that this is Contingency Theatre’s first full-length show. Thanks to their bold vision, they already feel like a fully-fledged professional company. Their physical theatre is clever, controlled, often breath-taking. Their energy and commitment makes this form of expression just as powerful as any written script, if not more so. The bare stage and minimal props let the movement speak for itself, and is a great reminder that the human body can create believable worlds just as well as extravagant sets.
The three performers are highly watchable. Barbara Blanka commands attention as George. Despite the reluctance of the audience to interact with her, Blanka still manages to evoke their sympathy and believe in her portrayal. Max Percy and Igor Smith give the show a sinister edge: their portrayal of George’s mother is especially creepy. Yet, like Blanka, they both tap into the vulnerability of their characters to great effect.
George is an impressive debut that manages to strike a chord whilst taking artistic risks. The result is a show that is emotionally familiar, visually strange, and exciting to watch.