Theatre Review: C-O-N-T-A-C-T – The Lowry, Salford

The cast of-C-o-n-t-a-c-t

The cast of C-O-N-T-A-C-T. Photo Credit: Phil Tragen

A narrative defined by longing and sorrow, C-O-N-T-A-C-T is a unique sensory and immersive theatre experience

4 out of 5 stars

Aria Entertainment and WEF Productions join forces with The Lowry to bring the critically acclaimed live production of C-O-N-T-A-C-T, to two new outdoor locations in Salford and Manchester from May 18 for six weeks.

After a week of torrential downpours, the clouds parted and the sun shone on a 50-minute evening promenade around Salford Quays.

After email instructions to download an app, and meeting at the Media City tram stop your phone number or a code passed out, the stage manager activates the dialogue and the journey begins.

The group begin to meander and suddenly two people from the group reveal themselves as the voices of the track playing in your ears, having been asked to arrive with headphones. Because you are a small group and with your own headphones you can keep a distance away and still enjoy what is playing out, this is especially welcome in the current climate and with a pregnant friend in tow who wasn’t feeling great we could keep back from the main group, but still immerse ourselves into the lives of Sarah and her guardian angel Raphael.

Chloe Gentles and Cellan Scott in C-O-N-T-A-C-T. Photo Credit: Phil Tragen

Performed three times a day at each location, to socially distanced audiences of 15 at a time, the soundscape by Cyril Barbessol accompanies the movements of two actors whom we follow around the Quays. “Let’s walk for a little,” we’re encouraged, and so we do, the story that unfolds gives itself over to grief. We hear a narrative defined by longing and sorrow, acted down our earpieces with arousing (if pre-recorded) fury by Richard Heap and Aoife Kennan. Although these are not the people we see walking with us.

Clearly, a stricken young woman, Sarah, played by Chloe Gentles, dressed in a denim jacket and leggings is visited by a flat-capped, “archangel” played by Cellan Scott. This guardian presence arrives just in time to help a daughter mourning the death of her father, and distrusting the world now she’s left alone. Both actors mime the raw emotions extremely well and bring what essentially is an audiobook to life.

“Silence, white silence,” is Sarah’s response to the news of the death of her father, a distant man with whom Sarah clearly wants to make peace, even after his death. Because he had lost his sight while working as an osteopath it prompts the funny observation that “a blind osteopath is like a blind piano tuner,” and it’s down to Sarah with the help of Raphael to see her way towards something resembling love. Although the relationship is a platonic one it still offers shades of light and dark, with just listening to Sarah’s intimate thoughts, offering a way to come to terms with what is and what has been as a way to move on.

Chloe Gentles in C-O-N-T-A-C-T. Photo: Phil Tragen

It is interesting to be walking with headphone watching a mime whilst passers-by are not aware of what is happening or why a group of people are stalking a couple pouring out emotions in silence whilst they as passers go about their own evening.

Quentin Bruno’s English-language adaptation of Eric Chantelauze’s French original keeps all the senses awake. Even as the conversation ebbs and flows, we are treated to snippets of music and ambient sounds: birds chirping or Sarah’s gurgling stomach. Sarah needs to be saved, she is angry with the world and in need of human interaction, to be held, mourn, and to hold someone. In the current times this story could be about any one of us, and our need as a society to build relationships and connect after so long self-isolating, we need to make C-O-N-T-A-C-T.

C-O-N-T-A-C-T runs for a limited outdoor season in Salford and Manchester until 27 June.