Theatre review: Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Slingsby’s Hall of Possibility

Wickedly Good Productions presents an intriguing, comedic and moving production on one phone’s ability to connect people.
Dead Man's Cell Phone. Image is two actors, one male, one female in a pink light against a black background. They are facing one another and touching their fingertips together.

The ephemeral nature of a phone call can bring about so much more meaning than may first be expected.

Brought to the stage by Tim Overton and Caitlin Ellen Moore from Wicked Good Productions, Dead Man’s Cell Phone is a comedic and moving performance that will stick with you long after the curtains close.

A STATESIDE production and the final performance in the State Theatre Company South Australia’s 2023 program, Dead Man’s Cell Phone is an incredible finale to a great year of theatre.

The production relishes in the human connections a phone can create and dissolve – both critiquing and sanctifying the modern reliance on devices.

This play truly has it all – discussing everything from grief and love, to awkward small talk and uncomfortably genuine confessions, along with questioning what it means to be morally good. It even has a fight scene near the end.

The story follows the delightfully awkward Jean (Annabel Matheson) when she discovers the incessantly ringing phone of a now dead man. Through each phone call she answers, Jean is pulled into the lives of the man’s loved ones, growing addicted to the feeling of easing their pain through lies.

The production is filled with a talented South Australian cast, including the aforementioned skilled performer Matheson, alongside Shabana Azeez, who perfects her roles as both the widow and the femme fatale, and Carmel Johnson, as the grieving mother, whose character stands both figuratively and literally above everyone. The multi-talented James Smith plays both the dead man and his brother, clearly putting his time in Emily Steel’s Euphoria to good use, as he switches characters with ease and gives each a distinct individuality.

Also on stage is the pianist, Dave McEvoy, who brilliantly performs both the emotional soundtrack and the annoying ringtones of a phone.

While covering heavier topics, Dead Man’s Cell Phone is a comedy filled with witty dialogue, humorous situations, a bizarre romance and a few fourth-wall breaks here and there.

An intriguing highlight of the performance, though, is its use of audience participation. Even if one of these instances involves something as sacrilegious as actively encouraging phone use within a theatre performance, the emphasis on connecting in a new way via technology is strong. It pulls you into the story and connects you to it in a unique way that you’re unlikely to experience again.

Distinctively, the space at Slingsby’s Hall of Possibility is split in two, with the stage acting as a large runway between the audience’s raised seating.

The simple set design is used effectively to fill the small stage, with rotating props to denote the location and a large white wall near the end of the stage to both enclose the open room and emphasise the silhouettes of the characters’ shadows.

On opening night the actors did have a few stumbles here and there, but overall the performances were impeccable.

Read: Performance review: Son and Wolfgang’s Magical Musical Circus, Playhouse Theatre, QPAC

Dead Man’s Cell Phone is a unique, funny and moving play that is definitely a must watch this December. So, grab a friend, your phone and some popcorn at the door, to enjoy this brilliant performance while you still can.

Dead Man’s Cell Phone
Co-Produced by: Caitlin Ellen Moore and Wickedly Good Productions
Director and Co-Producer: Tim Overton
Set and Costume Designer: Wendy Todd
Lighting Designer and Production Manager: Vanessa van de Weyer
Composer and Live Musician: Dave McEvoy
Cast: Annabel Matheson, James Smith, Shabana Azeez and Carmel Johnson

Dead Man’s Cell Phone runs until 10 December at Slingsby’s Hall of Possibility, SA.

This review is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Ekkia Evans is a writer and photographer who is part of ArtsHub's Amplify Collective. She acquired a Bachelor of Media and BA in English at The University of Adelaide, and has been a theatre critic for The Adelaide Show Podcast since 2020. Ekkia also hosts two music shows, 'Mix it Up' and 'Regional Rewind', on her local community radio station, BBBfm 89.1. Ekkia is based in Ngadjuri/Barossa Valley, SA.