The Hen & Chickens Theatre – 30 May to 3 June. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The London Underground, hell on earth to Londoners, and a wonder to tourists, has always been fertile ground for stories of loneliness, awkwardness and silliness. Tom Hartwell’s Contactless has all those things in glorious abundance. Hopefully Contactless will get a well-deserved longer run in the future – a true audience pleaser, full of recognisable situations.
The main narrative threads focus around three women – an ASLEF negotiator (Hannah Jay) who has to deal with Boris’s useless minions during strike negotiations; a station announcer (Jeryl Burgess) whose husband was the original “Mind The Gap” voice, and is struggling to adapt to modernisation at her station; and the Mancunian actress (Rosie Edwards) who gets the gig to be the new voice of the underground.
Sketches about life on the underground break up the storylines, riffing on priority seat etiquette, rush hour crushes, taking business calls and some fantastic station announcements. Stanton Cambridge’s meltdown when nobody will stand clear of the doors is just brilliant, the night train sketch is simple but inspired, and Adam Elliot proves that TfL’s “comedy” announcer shtick is much more entertaining when you’re sitting with a drink in your hand, rather than standing crushed between five sweaty businessmen on the platform.
Tom Hartwell’s writing is slick and funny, at its best in moments of excruciating awkwardness, and director Phil Croft keeps the rhythm of the play brisk. There are lots of laugh out loud moments, and some spectacular comedy gurning from Adam Elliot and Will Hartley, but Jeryl Burgess’s storyline is the beating heart of the play, making it more than a series of silly sketches and shaping it into a thoroughly British love letter to the tube.