By Ara Jansen for Seesaw Magazine 

See the original article here

Like an email that won’t send or a letter which doesn’t find the right post box, the characters in The Telephone just can’t seem to get on the same page and get the right words out.

On set: Chelsea Burns as Lucy in The Telephone

Just as Spandau Ballet lamented that “communication let me down”, in their recently renovated home, characters Ben (Wesfarmers Arts Young Artist, Lachlann Lawton) and Lucy (Wesfarmers Arts Young Artist, Chelsea Burns) just don’t connect and aren’t really listening to each other. He wants to propose. She has her ear glued to the phone in endless urgent calls with her friends. They’re performing Menotti’s The Telephone, a one-act English language opera, written in the 1940s.

It’s a comedy of errors which, when restaged by the West Australian Opera in 2020, features a tablet, a Zoom app and yet another day in isolation. Though thrust into a future far from a rotary phone, director Katt Osborne says the themes of miscommunication and not connecting remain the same.

Apart from a couple of places, Osborne says they haven’t had to alter the language much in the 30-minute piece but have modernised the set and the technology, while keeping a hint of vintage in their design.

“Their relationship is still quite conservative, traditional and heteronormative but I hope we have managed to make it feel more complex by adding some subtext. That’s the beauty of taking a story and finding the resonance now. We’ve also put the couple in an isolation scenario. Ben has been at home and has taken to cooking and craft projects while Lucy is missing her social life, so she’s spending a lot of time on her tablet.”

The piece also explores how technology is a help and hindrance to communication and can change the way we interact and relate. It also reveals the absurdity of how we communicate – or don’t – and relate to the devices in our lives.

Making The Telephone: Lachlann Lawton, Chelsea Burns with Director Katt Osborne and Designer Tyler Hill

The team at West Australian Opera has been highly active in creating new and energetic ways to share their work with the world at a time when they can’t invite you into a theatre. As the company’s music director Chris van Tuinen told Seesaw recently, the pandemic has given permission for a new kind of creativity.

Osborne says the idea behind this online digital version of The Telephone wasn’t just to film it live. The company wanted to create something which sat between a live production and a television production but wasn’t really either. Plus, with the performance and production teams spread between Perth and Melbourne, plenty of Zoom hours were logged.

“It’s not just pure realism,” she says. “With a full creative team behind it we had so many ideas that we went a bit crazy. It’s a fun piece so we wanted to reflect that too without you feeling like you were just watching the piece being performed on stage and filmed.”

Chris van Tuinen on the set of The Telephone

With social distancing in place, they kept the film crew small and filmed in van Tuinen’s Perth home which has been undergoing renovation. To add another element, van Tuinen – as The Telephone’s music director – plays the piano live on set.

“Ultimately, we tried to create a hybrid of something which is designed to be watched as a digital piece,” continues Osborne. “It’s neither a piece of film nor a live performance. In opera everything is a bit extra and has this heightened sense of spectacle, which it does on film as well. So, our experiment has been to bring it all together in a way which makes it thoroughly watchable online.”

The Telephone was released at 7.30pm (AWST), Thursday 9 July on West Australian Opera’s YouTube channel. See it here.

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