Butterfly Theatre @ The Wheatsheaf Hotel
5:00pm, Fri 12 Feb 2016
I realise that I’m totally becoming a grump when I start harrumphing at my watch at 5pm on the dot, with no sign of any action on the Wheaty’s great stage; my grumpy hackles were raised, and I’m counting minutes with the knowledge that I’ve got a little bit of a tight changeover between my first two shows of the season… even though I’d sworn that I was going to take things much, much easier this year.
Wesley van Gelderen takes the stage – call-centre corporate with a phone headset in place – and sits at a small table, hands on a laptop. James Whitrow follows him on, and very deliberately ties a noose using a fragment of rope that’s clearly been used for that purpose before. He throws the noose over one of the Wheaty’s rafters, and prepares to hang himself… when he receives a phone call from Lewis (van Gelderen) urging him not to go through with it.
Their initial conversation paints Guy (Whitrow) as newly-separated and (understandably) depressed… and Lewis as in a position of power. Passive-aggressive language leads Guy from suicide, and suggests that he’ll be able to reconcile with his ex… but there’s a trade to be made. Veiled threats, through knowledge of intimate details of his life sourced online by Lewis, push him into a corner and lead him into actions that are unthinkable. Guy is goaded into making semi-anonymous phone threats, choosing between ordering either an execution or a child slave, and is then forced to listen to the results of his “free” actions.
The highlight of the performance, though, was the denouement – with Guy out of the picture, Lewis dispassionately makes his next call… and a phone in the audience goes off. A woman next to me answers it, and we hear Lewis’ call-centre-perfect introduction again… “Oh shit,” she softly gasped.
It was a perfect end to a show that preyed on fears of technology.
Nat Texler’s script is not what you’d call cheery: there’s a lot of threats and (toothless) counter-threats, steeped in a healthy dose of internet-paranoia. Lewis’ justifications are thin, at best, and Guy’s reluctant desire to succumb to Lewis’ sociopathic requests borders on disbelief. But there’s enough there to keep the plot rolling along, and – at a relatively short forty minutes – it doesn’t drag too much… though the final five minutes could most certainly have benefited from a little extra trimming. But as my first show of this year’s Fringe, Lifeline proved to be a decent – but not rave-worthy – theatrical foray.