Saturday 5 September 2020

C.O.N.T.A.C.T - Review


Originally created by Samuel Sené and Gabrielle Jourdain
English adaptation by Quentin Bruno
Directed by Samuel Sené, associate director Bronagh Lagan.

It’s a typical wet and dreary slightly muggy evening in the capital. Sodden shoes, jeans damp already but you know what? As 6pm approached at the agreed meeting point, one would not wish to be anywhere else. Katy Lipson’s promenade production takes away "pre-show orders at the bar" offering instead a purer theatre: stripped down, bare and exposed in the streets of London. 

At just under an hour's duration, C-O-N-T-A-C-T consists of a cast of two and is playing out at various places across London. This reviewer saw Laura White and Max Gold taking on the double-hander at a location close to Monument tube station. As the play opens we find Sarah (White) sat alone on a bench from which we start to share her journey - a very personal expression of her thoughts from the pandemic that range from music, to work pressures, to stomach cramps. Such is the writer’s perception that there will be different moments within the narrative that will likely resonate with most of the audience. Sarah’s time remains private until she is interrupted by the arrival of a Raphael (Gold) a stranger who sits down next to her, socially distanced of course, with Sarah finding herself establishing a strange form of contact with this man whom she barely knows. 

Before delving into Sarah’s mind, the very first experience of C-O-N-T-A-C-T is the state of the art immersive sounds and music that play through each member of the audience’s personal headphones. Cyril Barbessol’s sound design is extraordinary, instantly taking the audience into another world of stereo soundscapes so carefully crafted that they could almost suggest a state of the art theme-park experience. Weaved into it this audio are the recordings of Aoife Kennan vocalising Sarah and Richard Heap as Raphael. Interestingly, while the layering of sounds, synth, music and voice is both innovative and transporting, there are moments in which the sfx or music overwhelms. If it were to be sometimes just the actors’ voices in their simplest, natural form this may well prove more effective. 

Sarah and Raphael may start the piece as strangers but they quickly form an incredibly open, and in many ways complex, relationship. Gold offers an initially slightly unnerving aloofness and detachment from Sarah, but nonetheless gives a well rounded performance in this new form of theatre where the audio track dictates every single moment, thought and action to the millisecond. White however takes the audience on the most personal of journeys, anxieties and revelations. Her natural instincts, intuition and honesty would be something to behold on a traditional stage and sat 30 rows back – but up close and some 5 meters away in the rain, her performance is little short of extraordinary. 

As joggers run by and tourists stop to gander there is something very refreshing about this piece of unconventional theatre that recently premiered in Paris. Sené’s direction is so intricate and versatile however that one suspects the piece could be picked up and played anywhere in the world. And so it should. At a time where the world for the most part has been without theatre for so long, C.O.N.T.A.C.T is an opportunity to reacquaint oneself and make contact with an art form so close to so many, on a whole new level.

Runs until 10th October 2020
Book via
Reviewed by Davide Davidssonn