Review of "Hotline" by TRON Theatre
This review was originally written for North West End UK and was published here.
If you could dial a phone number to connect with a stranger across the world, what would you expect to hear? Undoubtedly an interesting conversation would ensue. Good, now imagine that world being the moon. Perhaps some boring static or some alien speak – but definitely something that tells you a little more about the blue marble you call home.
HOTLINE is a new interactive audio play on the phone devised by Produced Moon, Meghan Tyler and Nima Séne, produced in association with Platform, Glasgow and supported by the Scottish Government’s Performing Arts Venue Relief Fund. Audiences dial a phone number to experience a lunar labyrinth of cosmic confessions, transgalactic tales and some workplaces woes at the world’s premier space organization. The show uses the structure of a choose your own adventure story with audiences being able to choose between storylines, actions and decisions to craft their own unique ride to the Moon (or to the edge of Earth exosphere, in case you fall a little short!).
The piece is inspired by the legendary phone call from the White House to the moon between Richard Nixon, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. The text was devised in a collaborative writer’s room, with the initial ideas for the piece developed through a research and design process with young people and older people supported by Platform, Glasgow. The performance itself lasts anywhere between 40 to 55 minutes depending on the choices one makes and can be played multiple times to reimagine each story. Featuring an oddball ensemble of characters such as The Loneliest Lonely Man Michael Collins, the All-Powerful Moon Bitch, Sally Ride, NASA’s Least Consulted Consultant Jerrie Cobb, Almost Astronaut Ed Dwight and our host for the ride Oxmo who has been struggling with the adblocker on their device.
From the moment you pick up the phone, you know you’re in for a fast-paced ride that encourages you to explore and play with the narrative. From the mash-up of various public archive recordings of space and flight in popular culture that instantly transport the listener to the larger world of the narrative to an assured self-awareness in the text, such as when the performers playing American astronauts acknowledge their pronounced English accents, you are left giggling, smiling and listening with your ears (and mind) wide open for what’s coming next. The use of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology allows the audience to pick and choose the direction of their story by pressing their phone’s keypad (for e.g. press 1 to proceed ahead and press 2 to stay where you are) keeps adding to the listener’s curiosity as to what would have happened if they’d chosen the other path to follow through (which works out well, as you can call the phone number as many times as you like). It’s this gesticulate participation on a mostly analogous medium of the telephone that stands out – in particular sections wherein audiences engage in some heavy-duty finger training as part of their space flight preparation or finger fighting whilst attempting a covert operation that charms you instantly. Needless to say, all of this is backed up by a stellar effort on voice acting, sound design and technical production that brings it all together – especially the latter, given the sheer magnitude of the audience’s decision tree that can impact the storyline.
To summarize, HOTLINE emphasises the inherent joy of being able to mould stories we want to hear by combining a layered narrative with a precisely arranged aural experience. The ‘telephonic’ experience breaks the monotony of the collective screen fatigue we’re witnessing, inviting you to play and immerse yourself with the stories, characters and conversations of the cosmos. A delightful ‘at-home’ experience that serves as a powerful example of innovative theatre being produced in a unique time for the performing arts.
The HOTLINE will open from 26th February to 6th March 2021 and is free to access. Sign up at the link below to receive the number to call in your inbox: https://www.tron.co.uk/hotline/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 24th February 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★