Performer/Writer: Nathan Penlington
Filmmakers: Fernando Gutiérrez De Jesus, Sam Smaïl, Nick Watson
Reviewer: Nichola Daunton
How do you review a show with multiple endings, most of which you haven’t seen? Choose Your Own Documentary, winner of the Scotsman First Fringe at last years Edinburgh Festival, initially seems as if it’s going to be about the small obsession of one man, but quickly unravels into an epic quest, huge in scope, with tendrils reaching across four continents.
After buying a job lot of Choose Your Own Adventure books on eBay, Nathan Penlington, a long-term fan of the genre, specifically the works of its inventor Edward Packard, discovers that all 105 were once owned by a teenage boy called Terence Prendergast. After finding Terence’s childhood annotations and a few pages of his teenage diary stuffed inside one of the books, Penlington sets off on a Choose Your Own Adventure style quest to find out what happened to the boy who wrote the diary.
Which is where the audience comes into the equation. Armed with mini remote-controls, we are asked to vote on a selection of outcomes, just like in the books. Should Penlington try and track down Terence? Where should he turn for advice? With psychics, self-help, and diary experts on offer, it’s up to you where Penlington goes and what happens next, and with the warning that the show, just like the books, could end suddenly and badly, it really is important to make the right decision.
It is only as the story unfolds that you begin to realise the enormous scale of Penlington’s project. Along with filmmakers Fernando Gutiérrez De Jesus, Sam Smaïl and Nick Watson, he has had to film and see through every possible option and outcome, and with over 60 film sections and 1,566 possible stories, Choose Your Own Documentary is clearly a labour of love.
Penlington’s style is endearing from the outset, part poet, part stand-up, part bedroom geek, his understated humour and genuine love of the books proves instantly infectious. A countdown of his five favourite, and often misanthropic, deaths in Choose Your Own Adventure, is hilarious and helps to define the sort of audience he has in the house as we are asked to vote for our favourite.
This misanthropic beginning also hints at the dark places the night might go to (depending on how you choose). The show explores the very nature of documentary and whether we have the right to invade other people’s lives, or make contact with people from our pasts. Exploring the nature of privacy and obsession, Penlington explores his own motives, and ours, both exploiting and questioning the voyeur in us all.
It is by no means all dark reflection though, with many of the situations that Penlington and his collaborators get themselves into proving very awkward and very funny. In today’s convienence age, true quests are hard to come by, but Penlington has managed to weave his own epic one from the most humble of beginnings, while also making a show that really lives up to repeat watchings. As with Choose Your Own Adventure books, Penlington’s show rewards honesty and courage, and you really do get the ending you deserve. So please, choose wisely.
More info at www.ChooseYourOwnDocumentary.com
Runs until 16th February