Ring ring  

Courtney Henri co-created and performs in the show Telephone. Photo by Tashi Hall.

1990s trance music, weird refracted light and old landline phones create a hypnotic and slightly strange backdrop to the stage show Telephone.

Focusing on the fragmented nature of communication, audiences are bombarded by “a symphony of phone calls” as conversations criss-cross, repeat and fade-out in disorientating waves.

The endless chatter creates an emotional and sometimes intimate narrative that covers everything from a caller’s love life to a 000 emergency. 

Underpinning all the chaos is “a rag tag Scooby Doo-type team of kids” trying to hack into the spirit world.

Telephone is not explicitly set in the 1990s, but it’s implied by the chunky landline phones and music.

Show co-creator and performer Courtney Henri says it’s not a nostalgia piece yearning for simpler times before mobile phones, but more a celebration of the burgeoning tech bubble in the 1990s.

“What interested us about the 90s was actually more to do with the technological potential of that decade,” Henri says.

“The Internet was a new concept and with that came the fear of the unknown, the chaos of learning something new, the beauty of being in a world where you were now able to connect to people from across the globe. 

“The 90s had this expansive feeling where people’s inner worlds had exploded and could reach other countries and everything could be done so much faster than it had before.”

Like a lot of great music and art, the catalyst for Telephone was experimentation – members of The Last Great Hunt theatre company were playing around with mics in phones to see how it distorted their voices. Later they stumbled upon a weird material that bent and warped light.

“Over a few years (I joined the company in 2020) we played with the material and the phones trying to do everything we possibly could; we continued to find out that the material would surprise us by doing something we didn’t expect,” Henri says.

Video calls became a lifeline for companies during lockdown, allowing employees working from home to communicate and hold virtual meetings.

Many continued working remotely after the lockdowns ended, but Henri is concerned about the long term impact of less face-to-face communication.

“I think Zoom has altered how workplaces and educational industries function, as now many companies allow staff and students to work from home. This to me, has been the biggest impact on people,” she says.

“I believe the world became a little bit lonelier and people suffered a lot more.

“It was a weird paradox where technically you were interacting with people, but the moment the call would end the reality of being alone in your room or study or lounge would creep back in. People began to crave physical and face-to-face communication.”

Featuring everything from bad connections to phone bugging, Telephone is a barrage of conversations, some poignant others prosaic, but all harking back to the core emotions of love and loneliness.

“I would say the overarching theme is connection and disconnection,” Henri says.

“I won’t give too much away because that’s the fun surprise audiences will get, but the show is made up of hundreds of calls, some recurring and others not. 

“The rest is up to the audience to make their own interpretations and conclusions.”

Created by the award-winning The Last Great Hunt theatre company, Telephone is at PICA in Northbridge from August 30 until September 10. Tix at https://pica. org.au/whats-on/telephone/

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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