It’s less than two months until theatres are tentatively slated to reopen, which will be a huge milestone for a London cultural scene that’s been brought to its knees over the last year. During that time we’ve seen innovative ways of overcoming social distancing, from entire theatres booked out for micro-performances for one to six audience members, to Zoom productions allowing you to enjoy a play from your own living room.
Is Now A Good Time? from the Out of Chaos theatre company is a play conducted entirely over the phone. At a given time individuals or small groups will receive a call from Red Onion Marketing asking you a number of mundane, surreal, poignant and eventually rather touching questions.
You’ll first speak to either Alex or Sam, who began by asking my favourite colour of washing up liquid. From here, over the course of just under an hour, you gradually build up a relationship with these two protagonists, who let slip personal information that invests you in this little slice of office live.
This isn’t a production that just happens – what you get out relies on how much you put in. I’m not sure whether Sam’s confession that his previous caller was a little unresponsive – “why sign up for a marketing survey if you don’t want to answer any questions?” was a genuine reflection on an unhelpful audience member or just there to make me feel better, but it certainly makes sense once you start to understand Is Now A Good Time?’s concept.
There’s a loose structure to the play, with a vague narrative developing over the course of the call and a number of ‘set pieces’ that dictate the rhythm of the production. But there’s a huge element of improv, with dialogue and events increasingly tailored to your answers.
The choice of a telemarketing survey and the office environment on the other end of the phone is particularly compelling during these times of WFH, making me miss the minutiae of working life – those little interactions with colleagues that most of us have gone without for so long.
It also surprised me just how chatty I became, happily discussing personal details of my life with these strangers, content just to shoot the breeze with someone outside of my social bubbles.
This, of course, is largely down to the two actors, whose conversational heavy-lifting is delivered with a wonderfully light touch. A number of actors are on a rotating roster but I can certainly vouch for the performances of Rhys Rusbatch and Laura Mugridge, who I felt a real connection with over the course of our chats.
Is Now A Good Time? is short and sweet, delivering its novel concept with real confidence. The story is a reminder of the before-times that’s warmly nostalgic and genuinely funny, leaving me with the kind of wide smile we could all do with in these dog days of coronavirus.