Adelaide Festival. Michaela Coventry, Sage Arts. Queen’s Theatre. 4 Mar 2022
We are told the show will last 35:33. We are ushered inside the bare whitewashed walls of the colonial Queen’s Theatre and before us is a room with tiny round tables - each with a single chair - laid out in neat rows. The only light emanates from the desk lamp on each table which is accompanied by a mid-20th Century-style, pre-push button, fixed line rotary dial phone and a small plug-in switchboard. All this is designed to take one back if one’s been there.
When I listen to 891 long after Peter Goers is finished - in the wee hours when I cannot sleep - I wonder about the lives of the people calling in. Who are they and why are they up and apparently alert? Victorian theatre-maker Roslyn Oades has actually taken her inquiry of this phenomenon to a whole new level by collecting thousands of messages volunteered by night owls between midnight and 6 am who call her special number. Again to invoke the past, their voices are replayed with the scratchy sound quality when answering machine messages were recorded on magnetic tape. Shift workers, bar staff, students, and even young people purge their anxieties and foibles, or ramble on in the dead of night.
Like the operator of an old telephone exchange from the movies, one can switch between callers and have a unique listening experience. Frequently ambient sound (Bob Scott – co-creator) and lighting effects (Fausto Brusamolino) bring the audience together for a shared experience.
In this immersive audio experience, you are awake in the middle of the night. That’s when the mind wanders - searching for meaning or rummaging through memory. Neat rows of tiny desks took me back to high school exams – complete with an invigilator (Katia Molino) observing from a high desk. The messages forced me to recall the disassociation I felt hearing a living voice without bodily attachment – more pertinent with someone you love than with an entertainment. Remember, this was a time when recorded messaging in the home was new, and one was getting used to the technology. Although the rotary dial on the phone was not connected, I played with it by dialing the number of the home of my
adolescence 233-3756, several times – maybe my Mum or Dad would pick up - even though they are deceased and the house is demolished. And all those torturous calls late-at-night trying to resuscitate a dying teen relationship. I found the The Nightline experience a deeply personal one.
But what does it hold for a more youthful audience member without nostalgia to be triggered? Perhaps creator Roslyn Oades is an aficionado of American film noir with its dark moods of pessimism, fatalism and menace. This makes the The Nightline a visceral introduction to the genre for the novice.
After 35 minutes and 33 seconds, the telephone ominously goes dead with the beep of disconnection. The invigilator slides back the enormous roller door and the fresh air outside awakens one as if from a dream. A delightful and transcendent experience.
When: 4 to 20 March
Where: Queen’s Theatre
Production Image Credit: Tony Lewis