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Edinburgh Fringe 2022

Speed Dial

Spies Like Us

Genre: Physical Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Pleasance Dome


Low Down

A tale of academic pressure, jealousy and damaged personal relationships, woven into stylised physical theatre, in which we witness a crossword-setting academic trying to solve the puzzle of his daughter’s kidnapping.


Spies Like Us are no strangers to Edinburgh Fringe. Their reputation is established as avant-garde, physical theatre story-tellers. Their set is typically minimalist : a desk, a doorway and 5 telephones. All is not as it seems though. The doorway becomes a phonebox, the desk a blackboard. The telephone lines become existentially an extension of anxiety and stress. All may not be as it seems generally, in fact.

Speed Dial is performed by five actors, all in differently coloured bright shirts. These colours match the 5 telephones and, intriguingly, their socks. Everything is fluid : the furniture, the plot-line, emotions and indentities. This is all conveyed beautifully and frictionlessly by this talented ensemble. The production was written by various members of the team, well directed by Ollie Norton-Smith, but special mention must go to the choreography by Zak Nemorin.

The piece is placed in the 1970’s, partly to set the movement to a lively 70’s soundtrack, but partly out of necessity with regard to plot devices. The end of the 70’s saw universities increasingly coming under pressure, as market forces prised their way into the academic landscape. Hard-wired telephones were de rigeur, mobile phones being still but a pipedream. The phone wires stretched and inter-twined, clearly allegorical to the shifting emotions experienced by the main protagonist. This sense is mirrored by intricate dance scenes, alluding to personal turmoil. There are many influences on this work, ranging from West Side Story to The 39 Steps, but this unique show is simply a joy.

Many people, globally, suffered a variety of difficulties during COVID, but one theme was remote communication. The professor is described as “a man with all the right words“ ; however, relationship communication may not be his strong suit. His relationships are evidently damaged, but, like the key crossword in the production, are they broken ? One clear, unambiguous, message from Speed Dial is to not leave fellow human beings, to coin a phrase, hanging on the telephone. This smorgasbord of movement is highly recommended.