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Home arrow Archive: EdFringe 2013 arrow Choose Your Own Documentary By Nathan Penlington
Choose Your Own Documentary By Nathan Penlington
Published on Friday, 09 August 2013

4 stars

Gilded Balloon Teviot (venue website)
31 Jul, 1-13, 15-26 Aug, 1:30pm-3:00pm
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Choose Your Own Documentary, a smart show from Nathan Pennington, deftly combines film, storytelling and the choose-your-own-adventure format many of us will remember from our youth. The result is a neat, sweet show, which delivers plenty of heartwarming character despite its high concept.

Penlington grew up as an avid reader of the literary phenomenon that is “choose your own adventure”. He loved the books so much he has decided to make his latest documentary about them – and has added some technical wizardry to let the audience play his show as if it were one of the books. It makes for a clever combination of medium and message, so much so that I want to steal his idea. So go to the next paragraph if you want to read more about what I liked about the show; or skip straight to paragraph four to find out what I wasn’t so keen on.

The choice points worked extremely well, leading us along a satisfying path.  I wasn’t always sure how much control the audience had over the outcome – a few choices seemed quite inconsequential – but the show was very slick and so, if it was actually artifice, it was very neatly-constructed artifice. Writing an interactive narrative that works is not an easy job, but this one feels rigorous and satisfying. Penlington himself is ridiculously likeable, and though much of the success of the documentary involved rooting for him, that’s no hardship at all.

However, even a show this thoughtful and well-constructed did outstay its welcome at 90 minutes. It’s long enough that you start tiring of button pressing, and start to notice that making choices about pre-filmed segments doesn’t actually have any real meaning.  After all, we’re making decisions for a version of Nathan that exists in the past.

It would be difficult not to love this show. Interactivity makes you feel involved, and makes the outcome so much more emotionally satisfying. It might seem simple on the surface, but it’s breathtakingly complex underneath… as all the best choose-your-own-adventures are.

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