Review: Mojave

Rose Aitchison 4 November 2017

Mojave was definitely one of the more creative shows I’ve seen at the ADC for a while. It combined interestingly arranged film and graphics, a live ‘sound architect’, beautifully choreographed physical theatre, interesting use of props, and a well-designed minimalistic set.

That said, the narrative was not particularly strong. The play is based on the true story of Godfrey ‘Doc’ Daniels, who became obsessed with an isolated telephone booth in the Mojave desert in the late nineties. The story is that Doc rang the telephone repeatedly, eventually someone answered, and then he went to visit the booth on his way to Burning Man. He was then so obsessed that he wrote a blog about it, and repeatedly revisited the booth. The booth then became a bit of a cult sensation, and lots of people called it, and people started driving out to answer it.

The idea is quite sweet, really. People calling strangers just for a sense of connection in the days before the dawn of the internet chat rooms we were all warned off as children.

But sweet didn’t necessarily make a compelling plot. Harry Reading is an excellent actor, who fulfilled all the requirements of the role, but Doc wasn’t a hugely compelling character. He was monotonous and then monomaniacal, and watching a man use his cell phone (very much a cell phone with an antenna and all – a nice addition) over and over again between repeat scenes of his silent waking, washing, dressing, dodging other humans, and photocopying, did become a touch tiresome.

I think that was the point: we live confined, tiresome existences, where we don’t speak, dodge past each other, do things on repeat out of habit, time starts to blur, and what’s meaningful and exciting is connection, even if fleeting. And the point was well presented. Jonathan Ben-Shaul’s direction was very strong, with moments of truly innovative humour, but the show dragged, and we were given little reason to really care about Doc, or the other actors, who performed a long segment of calling and answering the phone as different characters, having non-sequitur conversations with each other. Moments of these conversations were, again, truly sweet, but it was hard to be engrossed after the third or fourth conversation.

The idea behind Mojave was excellent, and relevant to our generation, and parts of it were really innovative, but it didn’t quite hang together. Another few weeks of rehearsal and some editing would have made this a potentially stand-out show, but I think the pace of production as enforced by Cambridge prevented the show receiving the level of polish it needed.