The Confidence Man, The Street Theatre*

20 Sep

* I attended The Confidence Man as a guest of The Street Theatre.

We’re sitting in a row of chairs, level with the stage that we border, in the Street One Theatre. Among us are six audience members who are about to run the entire 45 minute The Confidence Man themselves. We know who they are because they’re wearing enormous masks: black mesh covered with wide facial features to allow them to see. The stage is dominated by a house setting, but at one end there’s another small house setting, as well as a set of plants which doubles as the main house’s backyard and a park.

We all have headphones and phones – even the players. Each of the players listens to their pre-recorded dialogue and thoughts for their character through the headphones, as well as instructions on what to act out. Their entire experience of the show is through what happens with their character – they have no idea what any of the other characters are thinking or being instructed to do, but they can hear their dialogue if they are in conversation with them.

For the audience, the thrill is in being able to pick which characters to follow from our phones – we are in complete control of who we are watching or following at any one time.  This is both really clever and extremely frustrating, particularly for anyone who has a fear of missing out on something that’s happening! In only a few scenes are all the characters interacting with each other, and even then – when we can hear all the dialogue no matter which character we are following on the phones – characters are still thinking different things. It reminds me a lot of Deviator.

Of characters Sam (brother, I think, to Pete), Pete (father), Susan (mother), Anita (teenage daughter), Maria (delinquent living nearby) and Alex (Maria’s partner; fellow delinquent), I find myself often defaulting back to listening to Sam, who I think is the most interesting of all the characters. To be honest, I think I’d be lucky to have caught 50 per cent of it but the basic premise – without spoiling it, given even the players have no idea what happens to them until it happens! – is this: Sam stumbles across some money (a lot of money!) that isn’t his, and Maria and Alex want it back. This is a sinister plot and not suitable for children!

It’s easy to become engrossed in a character’s storyline and then suddenly see another character do something that you just know is crucial to the plot. There are a lot of things where I’ve no idea why they happened or what motivated the character because I was following another character at an important time! While time progression is shown on the phone, you can’t move it back or forward – everything is controlled elsewhere.

And that’s the catch: half the fun of this show is being able to chat about it after and share what you know of the story and learn what others saw and heard. It’s absolutely something where you should be going along with at least one, if not a group of friends to be able to do so – and at only 45 minutes there’s plenty of time available at the end to do so over a glass of wine or a beer (the theatre has Asahi and Cricketer’s Arms on tap).

And for those who’d like to be a player? I’d strongly encourage it. We’re asked when we pick up our tickets, and again before the show, whether we’d like to be a player and while I’m really curious, I’m not confident at all. However, they give you a 10 minute briefing before the show starts, the masks didn’t seem to be a hindrance at all, and if things are going wrong there are plenty of stagehands who – otherwise unobtrusive – jump in to assist (it happened twice). I’d strongly recommend it.

If I could change anything I’d make the masks even more distinct – while all the characters look very different and have different hair colour, they’re still features on enormous black masks which can make it a little tricky to follow characters.

All up? It’s a theatre experience like no other, a great outing for friends, and at $25 it’s a highly worthwhile night out.

Date: Sunday, 20 September 2015

Cost: $25 per person

Where: Street Theatre, Childers Street, Canberra City

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Want more? Book tickets through The Street website. There are only two more nights left – this Tuesday and Wednesday.


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