Review of The Telefon by Elise Lawrence

An uncomfortably unfunny and unnecessarily foul endurance exercise for the audience. 

Review of May 17 performance, by Elise Lawrence

Lightning Bolt Creative performed The Telefon for one night only on May 17. More information is available on the event page.

If you’ve ever seen the workings of an unsupervised grade eight drama class, you’ll have an idea of what happened on The Telefon.

It was an ambitious concept – a livestreamed performance experienced by the audience in the comfort of their own home, interacting with the characters via phone calls – but the execution suggested that little to no preparation had been undertaken.

Despite technical difficulties for the first fifteen minutes and a few false starts, the show began with an explanation from the host, Buster Cherry, that Z24 were broadcasting from their post-apocalyptic bunker, hoping to raise money to rebuild their news station.

Beyond this, however, The Telefon had little in the way of a narrative, making the two-hour run time a feat of endurance for the audience, particularly as the frequency of ‘ad breaks’ increased throughout the broadcast. The broadcast quickly descended into madness and excessive drug use in various stages of undress. The frequent use of racial stereotypes and transphobic language disappointed me much more as a viewer than the lack of narrative structure.

The performance was livestreamed via YouTube, the handicam studio footage interspersed with frequent pre-recorded ‘ads’ for items including ‘bird poop’, ‘shit’, and ‘The Fattass Burger’. The sound level between the pre-recorded ads and the live broadcast was inconsistent, so viewers had to adjust their volume every 10-15 minutes. These ads repeated with frustratingly frequency which, to be fair, is what would likely happen in a real free-to-air telethon.

The interactive component of the work relied, of course, on the audience picking up their phone. One call was successful, while on another call it seemed that the person was not watching the livestream. Only those two calls were placed – I didn’t receive a call, despite getting a test call to confirm the show details earlier in the day.

The content was almost entirely unrelated toilet humour (although ‘humour’ would suggest that it was funny). Crass monologues were peppered with partial nudity and vulgarity including crude sexual references and stories of masturbation, bestiality, and apparent cannibalism. I feel that crassness and nudity can certainly have a place in good theatre but, like any device, they need to have a purpose. There were too many gags that relied on crudeness and seemed to be appealing for shock value, none of which seemed to tie together and none of which I was amused by. The descending number of viewers on the livestream suggested others felt the same.

The core idea of this show was a good one, but the careless, apparently improvised execution was deeply disappointing. It would not be an exaggeration to say this is the worst production I’ve ever seen. Clearer audience instructions prior to the performance, a shorter run time, and more adherence to the advertised idea would have improved the experience greatly.