Theatre Review: Dead Man’s Cell Phone

A thought provoking and heart-warming look into how we connect with people – a wonderful lighthearted night at the theatre

A thought provoking and heart-warming look into how we connect with people - a wonderful lighthearted night at the theatre

Presented by: Caitlin Ellen Moore (Wicked Good Productions) and Tim Overton. Supported by Slingsby, Brink Productions and State Theatre Company South Australia
Reviewed: 29 November, 2023

We live in a world where our mobile phone plays a huge part in how we connect with society. How could we live without it? Dead Man’s Cell Phone explores themes around connection and our desire for it with others.

Written by Sarah Ruhl, this work explores the mystery of modern technology’s ability to both bring people together and push them apart. Ruhl’s work is known for its probing humor and stories centred around ordinary people living extraordinary lives. In Dead Man’s Cell Phone Ruhl creates a space where we as the audiences are challenged whilst exploring the themes of connection.

Produced by Caitlin Ellen Moore and Tim Overton, Dead Man’s Cell Phone is part of State Theatre Company South Australia’s Stateside program. Stateside showcases and supports great local theatre companies on a larger scale and has been a wonderful initiative from State Theatre Company South Australia over the last few years. Dead Man’s Cell Phone is also supported by Slingsby and Brink Productions.

Directed by Tim Overton, Dead Man’s Cell Phone has the perfect balance of humour and heart. Nothing about this production was overdone, and that is a credit to Overton’s attention to detail. One minute his direction choices have the audiences laughing and then the next our heart-strings are being pulled. Overton is a director to keep your eyes on. However, one direction choice that did at times fall short was the decision to have the cast speak predominantly in their natural (Australian) accents. While on the most part this worked fine, several Americanisms in the script didn’t work with this direction choice.

The play starts with a cell phone ringing in a quiet cafe, with Jean (Annabel Matheson) sitting at an adjacent table. She becomes frustrated that Gordon (James Smith) doesn’t answer his phone, so she ends up answering it. After the call, she discovers that he is, in fact, dead. What unfolds is 90 minutes of twists and turns as Jean weaves herself into Gordon’s life, meeting family and work colleagues who all had different viewpoints on who Gordon was. 

The small cast of four worked extremely well as an ensemble. Carmel Johnson plays Mrs Gottlieb, Gordon’s mother. She captures the nuances of an older, upper-crust woman who is used to things going her way perfectly. Whilst Mrs Gottlieb’s character arc doesn’t allow for much growth for an actor, Johnson makes the most of each line and creates a very commmanding presence when on stage.

Shabana Azeez tackles three roles within the show — Hermia (the grieving wife), other woman and stranger. She slips between each character with ease with different accents and postures. It’s no easy feat to get an audience to stand on their feet, open a hymn book and join in a song, but Azeez’s calm nature quickly put everyone’s minds at ease and had us all singing along.

Gordon (the dead man) and his brother, Dwight, are played by James Smith. Smith is a force to be reckoned with. Both roles are very different characters, but Smith switches between each flawlessly. In the opening scene, when we first meet Gordon, Smith’s control over his body is a sight to see — sitting there, dead, not moving, not reacting to audience giggles, not blinking. It’s not an easy thing to do. The rapport he has with Annabel Matheson, particularly as Dwight, is excellent. You can feel the romance of the two characters grow and blossom throughout the play.

Annabel Matheson as Jean is brilliant. Her quick wit and sensational comedic timing help her find all the right beats throughout this production. She easily switches emotions and quickly pulls the audience into the world of Jean. Matheson has a great depth of understanding of this character and her connection to the other characters throughout the show is brilliant. 

The cherry on top of the Dead Man’s Cell Phone cake is the live music and compositions by Dave McEvoy on piano. McEvoy is one of Adelaide’s top musicians, accompanists and musical directors. His score perfectly complements the production, and at times almost becomes a character in itself. The music opens with a gorgeous, romantic mini overture, and what follows is a magical score that never overpowers the scenes being played out. We are very lucky to have home-grown musicians and masterminds like McEvoy here in South Australia.

Although the set for this production is very simple and sparse, the audience is never confused as to where the scene is set. Scene changes are brilliantly choreographed to McEvoy’s music. Simple choreography by Zoe Dunwoodie makes for some magical moments — especially the Cell Phone Ballet. A very moving moment towards the end of the production.

As we head into the crazy times of December, Dead Man’s Cell Phone is the perfect production to see. It is the chance to not only see a wonderful, home-produced production and a team of excellent creatives produce a stunning show, but it is a stunning reflection on who is important to us and who we should find time to connect with.

Reviewed by Ben Stefanoff

Photo credit: supplied

Venue: Slingsby’s Hall of Possibility – REAR HALL, 96 Glen Osmond Rd, Parkside
Season: November 29 – December 10, 2023
Duration: 90 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: From $35.00

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