Few of our generation will have made it through childhood without reading from the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Sparking a phenomenon in children’s literature, the idea behind these stories was simple: that the reader could, for the first time ever, control his own journey. The narratives are designed like a flow-chart, so that at every twist and turn of the adventure, there is more than one possible way of proceeding – and one particular enthusiast, writer and comedy performer Nathan Penlington, has ingeniously revived the format for the premise of a film.
The story of Choose Your Own Documentary is itself rooted in Penlington’s self-confessed childhood obsession with these books. After flicking through one of the 106 titles of the series previously purchased from eBay, he stumbles across the angst-ridden pages of a teenage diary belonging to a ‘Terence Prendergast’. This discovery triggers a quest for Penlington, who sets out to reunite the pages with its rightful owner. The exact path of his adventure, however, is down to us: the audience has the power to vote on his every step via a personal remote control handed out at the start. In true Adventure style, we are encouraged to ‘choose wisely’ – one false move could end things ‘suddenly and horribly’.
This ludicrously tongue-in-cheek homage to a largely forgotten genre soon blossoms into an intelligently constructed project. Part live comedy, part documentary film, Penlington’s adventure became a highly personal and autobiographical reflection on the concept of ‘choice’. Without giving too much away, the eventual story was a rather tenuous one, but the audience will be captivated regardless; the show is fortuantely centred around the particularity of the format and the unique role the viewer is able to play, and this is its redeeming quality.
As we were leaving Soho Theatre, we were urged to come back the next night and ‘choose’ another version of the story, of which there are 1566. Though the gradual progression of the narrative may vary, I’m not convinced that our final destination is as open-ended as it might seem; the overall motion of the show seemed more or less inevitable. Nevertheless, as a brilliantly innovative idea, the novelty of Choose Your Own Documentary will still make for a thought-provoking and engaging experience. ***