This new show from Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company, devised to be performed online, holds up a mirror to the strange moment we’re living through. It captures the intimate yet remote conversations between those in need and those trying to help – whether with malfunctioning wifi or anxiety. Made during lockdown, it encapsulates much of the isolation and frustration of the pandemic, filtered through the experience of call-centre workers.
Working from their scattered homes, the call handlers deal with customers, patients and people with nowhere else to turn. With trained cheeriness, they respond to the problems of a nation under lockdown, their distant presence both easing and underlining the shared experience of isolation. In the 25-minute streamed performance, we see them as disembodied heads against dark backdrops, intensifying the sense of disconnection.
Veering from IT problems to online banking to medical diagnoses, the conversations are at once detached and deeply personal, punctuated by endless questions. Occasionally, the familiar and banal – “What’s your mother’s maiden name?”; “What’s your favourite film?” – is ruptured by a moment of peculiar profundity. One voice suddenly asks: “Was it always meant to be this way?”
At times, the performance captures the feeling of dislocation almost too well. Sitting behind a screen, it’s easy to tune out from the familiar buzz of chirpy patter. As it continues, though, For Quality Purposes moves into bleaker territory, with customer queries giving way to loneliness and desperation. We’re reminded of voices too easily forgotten – those quietly struggling alone, and those who only exist for us on the other end of a phone call.