The icy cold night that greeted the audience walking out of Telescope last Thursday was particularly apt. Not to get too clichéd with pathetic fallacy and all, but it pretty accurately reflected the frozen numbness I felt inside have having just watched a marriage fall apart in front of my eyes. Watching the show made the audience feel like they were sitting in the back of a friend’s car as they fought with their parent, trying to stay as small as possible whilst praying that they stopped before things went too far. Telescope didn’t stop. The loose ends appeared, and were tugged and niggled at until the whole carefully crafted marriage unravelled. With it came a host of questions about love, motherhood, and life.
Telescope bills itself as a play about the impact on a married couple when their eldest child comes out as a transgender man. Shevvi Barrett-Brown and Caillin McKay play married couple, Joss and Vic, swapping roles midway through the show’s run. Barrett-Brown played an endearing Joss, whose well-meaning but misdirected response involves researching surgery options that his son would need to “count as a transgender”, and outing Jem to their friends and family without his knowledge. McKay’s Vic is inevitably less sympathetic, responding to the situation with hurt and betrayal. We run the full gamut from childishly refusing to discuss the subject, to constant misgendering to the oh so clichéd “it’s just a phase”. The conflict between the pair begins over Jem’s gender identity but quickly expands to issues like Joss’s unfulfilled dreams of going to space and Vic’s resentment of her identity being subsumed by motherhood. Each and every wound is reopened in a brutal exposé of the bitter reality of marriage.
The play was far from seamless. At times the cast struggled to maintain the believability of their supposedly familiar relationship. Moments of intended tenderness were acted out by two young people who didn’t quite carry their adult marriage, rendering it stilted and awkward as a result. Yet despite the lulls, there were moments of genuinely paralysing drama. The brilliantly written escalation of their fights was scarily real. You can hear yourself in their argument, irrationally frustrated, saying things you don’t mean. Bringing up that one time that your partner did that one thing several years ago that you’re still mad about. Telescope makes you squirm in your seat as you silently beg them to stop fighting. The audience can see whether it is going, and doesn’t want it to get there.
A two hour play with no intermission, following the interactions of a married couple in their living room hardly sounds like compelling viewing. It is a testament to the script and cast that they were able to keep the audience captive throughout their recurrent dinner table conversations. Barret Brown’s Joss was funny, likable and eccentric, indulging the audience in light comedy amidst the heavier issue. Moments of humour punctuated the drama, and scenes built up to ask soul searching questions. There are undoubtedly kinks that need to be ironed out, however the overall show was incredibly compelling viewing that left the audience thunderstruck and gazing into space in search of answers.