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Published on Saturday, 28 May 2011

4 stars

Brighton Station
25 May (run ended)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

"Walk down the alley," says the voice in my head, "and don't look back." It's 2 o'clock on a sunny afternoon, and this pretty hedge-lined walkway should hold no terrors for me. But as I clutch a black briefcase - I don't know what's in it - and steel myself to stride forwards, I find my heart is racing.  I think I'm being followed... and I know I've lost control.

Giving up control, just following orders, is a concept at the heart of Navigation. It was a half-hour scratch performance and it ran for just one day, but it was still among the most immersive and cleverly-constructed pieces I've ever seen at the Fringe. I'd signed up - literally signed my name - without knowing what I was committing to; then little by little, instruction by instruction, I'd let them draw me in. Now, there must surely be a reckoning - not a baseball bat in the head, but a mirror held up to truths about myself which  I'd maybe rather not see.

Navigation's killer gimmick is its use of video, played on a hand-held gadget which I watched as I walked around. It revealed my character's memories, which I soon found myself re-living, in a dream-like real life. Some of the on-screen characters were waiting on the streets to greet me, while other memories - usually the darker ones - remained elusively on film. It's disturbing and dislocating, in all the right ways, but it's exciting and entertaining too - and above all the technology adds to the storytelling, a tool rather than a toy.

Under Periplum's inspired direction, the ensemble of students from Nortbrook College took effortlessly to their roles - playing friends, gangsters, and even my own conscience with equal verve and aplomb. Their precision would put many professionals to shame, with each character, each scene (and yes, that intriguing briefcase) delivered to the right spot, at exactly the right time. There was a genuine solicitude about it all; my character was in peril, but my real self was manifestly in the safest of hands. And I *was* being followed, with purely benign intent. Any time I felt confused, an apparent passer-by stepped up to me, and gently led me on.

So why not five stars?  There just wasn't enough storyline to earn them: this was an early draft, openly acknowledged as such, and the emotional tricks it pulled were fairly easy ones. The challenge will be to sustain the same sense of involvement for a full-length show, and to balance the novelty of the whole experience with a meatier, subtler plot. But still, I'm in awe of what a clever director and a gang of students achieved, with just a few days of rehearsals and a couple of mobile phones. It's reset my understanding of what's possible, when theatre and technology combine... quite simply, it's raised the game.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2011.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.