Theatre review: Dead Man’s Cell Phone
Wicked Good Productions’ Dead Man’s Cell Phone is an imaginative and wickedly entertaining exploration of modern human connections.
Otherworldly imagery: Carmel Johnson and Annabel Matheson in Wicked Good Productions' 'Dead Man's Cell Phone'. Photo: supplied
“I called you from my planet.”
Dead Man’s Cell Phone explores the role of digital technology in modern human connections. When an ordinary woman, Jean, stumbles upon the mobile phone of a freshly dead stranger called Gordon, she embarks upon a bizarre journey of love, mortality, and bone-chilling true crime. Imaginative and dreamlike, American playwright Sarah Ruhl’s black comedy is a timeless theatrical poem.
Programmed as part of State Theatre Company South Australia’s 2023 Stateside Program, and supported by Slingsby and Brink Productions, this production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Wicked Good Productions is refreshing and magical.
“In my emerging career as a director I have endeavoured to interrogate deeply the vital connection available between an audience and a work,” Tim Overton writes in his director’s notes for Dead Man’s Cell Phone. “In our production, this manifested as a fascination with how live music, playful use of architecture, an attention to the performers’ actual bodies in space, and some gentle audience participation might enhance a connection to the inner life of Ruhl’s beautiful and baffling piece.”
Lighting design by Vanessa van de Weyer gently complements the scenes. The lighting changes are subtle and smooth. Van de Weyer ingeniously entangles the shadow of the actors with the architecture. Combined with the extraordinary use of height in blocking, it achieves an otherworldly imagery.
Annabel Matheson and Tim Overton in Dead Man’s Cell Phone. Photo: supplied
Composition by Dave McEvoy underscores the play perfectly, conveying a broad range of emotions. His music is almost like a character with its own personality and stories, which distracts from the actors at times. Overton’s “endeavour” to interrogate connection is evident in the actors’ other comical fourth-wall-breaks with the music and McEvoy.
Annabel Matheson’s performance as Jean is complex and quirky. She radiates a naturally warm and grounded stage presence. James Smith, who portrays Gordon/Dwight/Others, is breathtaking. His physical comedy is precise, and his speaking voice has a captivating musicality and occasionally a stridency which reverberates from the rafters.
Carmel Johnson graces the stage with her powerful performance as Gordon’s eccentric unaffectionate mother Mrs Gottlieb. Shabana Azeez supports the narrative nicely in her various featured characters.
Zoë Dunwoodie’s choreography is a highlight of the show. With its heart in movement theatre and a blend of dance styles, the pas de deux sequence is unique and highly entertaining.
Overton and his co-producer Caitlin Ellen Moore exemplify the exceptional ability of emerging independent theatre-makers. Adelaide theatre-goers should look beyond and beneath the mainstage; hidden gems are found in all venues.
Nicky Tsz Tung Li is the fourth recipient of the Helpmann Academy InReview Mentorship. She is working with experienced writer Samela Harris to write a series of articles for publication on InReview.