There’s a whole load of style, but regrettably little storyline, to this surreal and slow-paced “performative investigation”. It begins with an image familiar from countless thrillers and detective yarns: a well-dressed woman lies dead by her sofa, a telephone receiver just out of reach, and a dial tone buzzing into her lifeless ear. A pair of investigators begin to recreate the events which led us here – events which are duly played out on stage in a creative and genuinely surprising way. There’s a huge amount of promise in those opening scenes but alas, the work never progresses beyond there.
Whatever else I might think about The Call, I have to acknowledge that it’s exquisitely designed. The telephone is just one part of a sparse but iconic set, filled with the bright colours and clean shapes that define the middle part of the last century. The costumes, too, are perfectly of their time, with the dowdier garb worn by the two investigators a smart device to signal their disconnection from the scene.
The elegant visuals continue with a series of frozen tableaux, which at first deliver plenty of comedy but later veer into self-indulgence. The actors playing the principal parts are admirably supple and strong – but just because you can hold still for minutes on end with your hands on the ground and your legs in the air, doesn’t necessarily mean you ought to. Like a lot about The Call, these poses are faintly inexplicable, over time serving to distance the play from its audience.
And sad to say, the clarity of the visuals doesn’t translate to the ambitious soundscape, built from the tones and other noises which old-school phones make when they go a bit wrong. It works well as a concept, but it can’t sustain a whole show, and fragments of dialogue are occasionally lost among the cacophony. I hope composer Felipe Ignacio Noriega will keep working with this interesting quasi-musical style; but more thought is needed about how it can best be used in theatre.
Back on the stage, just as matters seem to be reaching a climax, the chief investigator sits down in front of the TV and plays a clarinet. I’ve absolutely no idea why. Then – cliché of clichés – the actors drop out of character, and begin to debate their tottering plot structure live in front of their audience. There’s some humour here, especially in the increasingly convoluted story about ways to get out of trouble, but making light of your own play’s shortcomings is a poor substitute for avoiding them in the first place.
By the end, I was none the wiser about how and why the deceased woman had met her end; and worse than that, I’m afraid I no longer cared. It’s not that The Call is particularly abstract – that by itself wouldn’t be a problem – but rather that it has exactly the wrong amount of plot, just enough to draw you in and make it frustrating that the story never quite goes anywhere. The performers are talented and the delivery’s near-faultless, but sadly The Call just isn’t getting through.