Contactless explores every day situations that occur on London’s Tube and extends them to the extreme, beyond acceptable mores and so into the realm of comedy. The pace is frantic and often disjointed but the overall effect is a satisfying mix of comic encounters.
…commuting in your tube of shame…
Contactless is a new play by Tom Hartwell and premiered last night at the Hen and Chickens Theatre, Islington. Hartwell has been productive since graduating as an actor from Mountview College in 2015, this being his fifth play to be produced on the London fringe since then. He writes with humour about contemporary issues surrounding technology and change.
The form of Contactless is that of comedy sketch revue with some linking narratives. The first story is about ‘The voice of the underground’, Peter Lodge, who recorded the infamous three words, ‘Mind the Gap’. Lodge got the job by default when the booked actor demanded royalties.
Adam Elliot is the cast member playing Peter Lodge, amongst his many roles. Elliot is a charming and versatile actor who plays the simple Lodge as well as he does the craftier, upper classed toff in later scenes.
Also in the early scene about Lodge is the sound recordist played by Will Hartley. Hartley also portrays many characters that he handles with skill to gain definition between them, all with very little time to establish their individuality. It is Hartley that plays the more unsavoury of the characters on the tube which he does with great comedic timing.
The pace of the show is blistering and the audience is required to work hard to keep up with the changes, they come as often as trains on the Jubilee line and it’s easy to miss one. Gratuitous train references abound in the play, some engender hearty laughter, others some soft groans of recognition.
One thread that wasn’t identified until the final scene was the connection between ‘the voice’ and the older woman struggling to keep up with changes in her work place. There are two actors playing the role of Lodge’s wife. Jeryl Burgess plays the role in later years and garners the sympathy of the audience with her performance. Rosie Edwards plays her as a young and excited bride.
Burgess has some lovely scenes with her unsympathetic boss. He is played by Stanton Cambridge who is commanding in this character and extremely effective as a ‘french’ waiter in another scene.
Edwards also plays the latest ‘voice of the underground’ who is sacked after committing a misdemeanor of the social media kind. She shows great skill in all her roles but it’s in this last role that her talent shines most.
Several other strands of narrative are twisted together quite cleverly but somewhat obtusely. The good thing is that the audience can enjoy the humour in each scene on its own merits and never have to search for the confluence even if it is satisfying to recognise it.
Lastly the contentious issue of the night tube, the strikes and the political hype that heralded a change that didn’t eventuate, flows through several skits. Leading the scenes is actress Hannah Jay as the beleaguered worker who flies the union flag against a phalanx of management donkeys. These scenes are great fun and present an uncompromising view of inept management. Jay is particularly strong in these scenes.
Inappropriate sexual behaviour on overcrowded tubes, abuse in a work situation, issues of ageism, and finally religious intolerance; all unsocial behaviour seen on the tube is given a focal point. Contactless explores every day situations and extends them to the extreme, beyond acceptable mores and so into the realm of comedy.