Friday, 3 July 2015

Theatre review: 36 Phone Calls

At Hampstead Downstairs at the moment you can catch a man having a breakdown over the course of 36 Phone Calls. This monologue by Jeremy Brock sees Martin (Lee Ross,) an accountant recently thrown out of the house by his wife for cheating, having to live and work in what looks like a storage lock-up (designs by Anna Bliss Scully.) He has a landline and three mobile phones, to variously call family, his mistress and clients. As his time stuck in this small room lasts longer than expected, we see him attempt to make up with his wife, try to get his daughter to speak to him again, and help his son with his homework, all while one of his clients asks him to hide a huge amount of cash from the Inland Revenue, and a mysterious heavy breather keeps calling on one of his phones.

Ross does a convincing job of showing us the hypochondriac Martin fall apart while trying to keep it together, but something about Jo McInnes' production didn't hold my attention, and I ended up more preoccupied with counting the phone calls than empathising with the character.

It could simply be that Brock's play is too unremittingly bleak. Apart from what feels like it should be a comic scene, where Martin tries to talk on all four phones at once - but due to the subject matter of those calls it's not actually a lighter moment after all - there's no change of pace from the unremitting spiral into despair, and while on a technical level I could appreciate Ross' performance and the lyrical nature of what Brock's doing at times with the script, I found this a hard play to like.

36 Phone Calls by Jeremy Brock is booking until the 18th of July at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

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