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REVIEW: Mojave

An experiment that pays off

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I am almost completely sure that the creative team and cast of Mojave (moh-hah-vee) wouldn’t mind me labelling this ADC late show as ‘strange’. It is – in the best possible way.

Mojave is the true story of an isolated phone booth in the middle of the Mojave Desert in the 1990s. It attracts the obsession of one Godfrey ‘Doc’ Daniels (Harry Redding) when he comes across the labelled phone booth on a map and begins to call the number. What follows is the growth of a cult sensation, and the play unfolds as a strangely endearing tale about human fascination and anonymous connection.

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Credit: Ciaran Walsh

It would be interesting in itself to hear how director Jonathan Ben-Shaul conceived and pitched the show. I’m not sure how the idea looked on paper, but as a live performance it works wonderfully. Credit must be given to Ciaran Walsh, whose publicity designs and tactics extend the experience of Mojave beyond the stage (their Facebook is worth a look). A hybrid of physical theatre, purposeful projections and deft sound cues, Mojave is not only unique in its story but in its presentation. The cinematography (Louis Norris) and sound overlay (Christian Hines) are as important to the play as the script or acting. Their contributions are beyond the typical scope of student theatre, and oftentimes stunning. As soon as the play opens, featuring a vintage-style film count down and a surreal selection of what I can only term ‘artsy’ clips, you realise that this is going to be a little bit different.

The digital aspects of the show, though perhaps attention stealing, work perfectly with the physical action on stage. Redding served as charismatic lead and point of focus for the first section, but it is difficult to pick a stand out performance from the tight ensemble (Shimali De Silva, Emma Corrin, Joe Sefton, Adam Mirsky) who work together with a fluidity impressive for such a technical show – and for opening night. Not every lighting cue (or every accent) hit its mark perfectly, but it almost doesn’t matter as you’re carried along through the different scenes and characters. Also onstage is Christian Hines, mixing music live and as much a watchable part of the ensemble as the others.

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Credit: Ciaran Walsh

The play opens with sharp and witty choreographed movements. You’re able to watch the repeated, mundane daily routine of Redding without for a moment feeling that you’re watching anything dull. The cast morphs from object (Mirsky, in particular, makes an inspirational bedside lamp) to commuter with ease. Unusually, the ensemble and story lost its steam slightly as the play went on, with the movements and quick scene-changes losing their initial tightness. When the story changes to showing the various calls made to the booth, it began to feel less focused and more like a showcase of the actors’ different accents and personas. Based on the real transcripts and audio recordings of ‘Doc’ Daniels, however, the script is as bizarre as the interactions were in reality, and any heavy exposition or repetition can be forgiven for what they add to authenticity and the simple strangeness of the thing.

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Credit: Ciaran Walsh

Mojave is a wonderfully bizarre concept and a vehicle for experimenting with the technical ways that theatre can be performed. Any regular theatre goers in need of something weirdly refreshing should go, as well as anyone simply after a night of entertainment.

Yet it is also unexpectedly touching, and as the literal credits roll on stage you may find yourself wondering why you feel a little melancholic – and why you have so much to question about modern technology and communication – all because of a phone booth.

You may also just be tempted to give +1 (760) 733 9969 a call.

Mojave is on at 11pm at the ADC Theatre, until Saturday 4th November.

4/5 stars