There have been plenty of phone digital shows during the last year that have brought strangers together in one-on-one situations from Fix&Foxy’s gorgeous Avatar Me to Ontroerend Goed’s TM. You might say that the real narrative of theatre over the last year has been about trying to make a connection when we cannot come together in a single space. But the show this most reminds me of is Rotozaza’s Etiquette, in which two strangers meet in a public space and have a guided conversation and perform pre-set actions.
A Thousand Ways (Part One) is the first part of a planned triptych. It operates as a phone call between two random strangers who never have a conversation but who answer questions posed by an automated voice. The piece cannot take place unless we are both present on the call, and yet the mediated nature of the exchanges and lack of spontaneity feels quite inhibiting. There are always three in this relationship: you, the other caller and the robotic female voice. Oddly, during a sequence in which we are taken to a desert and stare at the stars, I began to picture the computer -generated voice as a hamster. It helped, I found I resented her presence less.
The result is an hour-long encounter which provides loads of information but not the name of the other audience member on the call, or indeed any emotional connection. I know that the other person is male, was born in 1971, I might guess he is an actor because when asked about a sound he loved it was the laughter of an audience, and I even know the names of two people who he went to primary school with.
Unless he was lying (and why would you?) I know he can crack his knuckles, Moonwalk and has been to France but not Florida, and has inherited money. I know a great deal about him, but I have no connection. No sense of his personality. No feeling of what moves him or makes him tick.
But in a way that may well be the point. All we have between us are the words and sometimes the words are not enough to really see each other and make a connection. Perhaps intimacy can’t be forced by a series of questions which are not driven by genuine curiosity but by a pre-ordained template of questions of the kind asked by on-line dating services.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe tonight when my mind wanders as I drift off to sleep, I will think again of the unnamed stranger with whom I spent an hour this afternoon and I will wonder whether he is with David who he loves, where his tattoos are located on his body and whether he has thought about me again. And in that act of remembering slowly he will come into focus and I will feel the beat of his pulse, and see the stars in the desert through his eyes, not mine.
You can participate in A Thousand Ways Part One: A Phone Call online until Sat 29 May. Tickets here.