A young woman sits alone on a bench in the middle of Clapham Common, silent, apparently deep in thought. About a dozen people stand a few metres away, in a semi-circle, staring at her intently. What appears a still, unremarkable scene to oblivious passers-by is a tumult of memories and thoughts tumbling around the young woman’s head, heard only through the headphones the spectators are wearing. This is C-o-n-t-a-c-t, an immersive outdoor show that takes you on a physical and emotional journey through loss and isolation to healing and reconnection.
Originally staged in French on the streets of Paris, C-o-n-t-a-c-t has been translated and adapted for various locations around London including Greenwich and the City. I opted for Clapham Common, where we meet a member of the theatre company near the children’s paddling pond to download a special app onto our phones and get ready with our headphones. The everyday sounds of Clapham are then overlaid with another soundscape of music, effects and words, taking us into the thoughts of Sarah, a young woman who suddenly appears to us ambling along the path. For the next 50 minutes, we follow her around the Common, stopping off at benches and under canopies of trees for a metaphysical story that sees a guardian angel, Raphael, materialise to help her deal with traumas that are preventing her from getting on with her life.
At a time when physical contact is limited because of Covid-19, C-o-n-t-a-c-t is a strangely intimate experience, initially unsettling as we follow Sarah around the Common invading her space and private thoughts. But ultimately it is an uplifting and beautiful experience, enhanced by Cyril Barbessol’s music and sound design. The words, originally by Eric Chantelauze and adapted into English by actor and singer Quentin Bruno, have a vernacular lyricism that stops short of become overblown as it delves into Sarah’s broken spirit.
There is a rotating cast at the different locations but, when I saw it on Clapham Common, Sarah was played movingly in person by Katja Quist and voiced by Aoife Kennan. Richard Heap was there in body and voice as the ordinary-seeming but imposing figure of Raphael. Created by Samuel Sené and Gabrielle Jourdain for an age of social distancing, C-o-n-t-a-c-t is a wonderful way to reconnect with theatre. With its use of headphones, it is not just a gimmick but a perfect way to immerse audiences in a poignant and hopeful story.
Running to 10 October 2020. More about the show at contactshow.co.uk.
Photography by Pamela Raith. Top picture (left to right): Richard Heap, Chloe Gentles, Aoife Kennan, Max Gold, Katja Quist, Louis Bernard and Charles Angiama