It’s finals week on an unnamed university campus and a professor in English literature is having a bad time of it. An estranged wife, a dodgy Dean, a scurrilous campus tabloid journalist, and a close-to-home kidnapping all turn up the heat in Speed Dial, an enjoyable campus-based mystery from the physical theatre company Spies Like Us. Although occasionally tonally disjointed, committed performances and some intelligent writing make for a very entertaining show.
Committed performances and some smart writing make for a very entertaining show
The play itself follows the tribulation of the aforementioned professor, played with an admirably straight-face by Hamish Lloyd Barnes, as he tries to solve the kidnapping of his daughter. On the way, he faces challenges from competing university interests and enlists the help of unlikely allies to solve a string of nicely constructed clues. It’s Agatha Christie dreamt up by a cruciverbalist and liberally sprinkled with pieces of physical performance and dance.
In terms of the story, it’s just as much a whatwasdone as a whodunnit, with several plot strands and a whole lot of twists thrown into the mix. The stakes may be about as high as a Betty Ford Clinic outpatient, and some of twists laid bare in the denouement are less than shocking revelations, but the journey to get to the finale is fun and there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had as the cast throw themselves into the story, solving clever clues with some very good performances. Turns by Evangeline Dickson as an over-enthusiastic archaeology student, and company newcomer Elle Dillon-Reams as both a bookish professor and surly groundskeeper both stand out.
The physical elements of the show have mixed results. There are some great moments, from the impressively energetic opening sequence to a well-choreographed and performed masked ball. However, passages in which the ensemble cast unite to externalise the professor’s internal angst are less than harmonious with the rest of the material. These times of artistically physicalised anxiety are well rendered and realised, but don’t sit comfortably with the whimsical characterisation and plotting which runs throughout the rest of the piece.
Overall, Speed Dial is an entertaining and often funny ride with a string of strong performances from a talented young cast, and a cleverly constructed, light-hearted script. It’s a lot of fun taking in this tale of campus mystery and misadventure, making this show well-worth a watch.