The Confidence Man (Side Pony Productions)
Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre
October 28 – 31
As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story. In Side Pony Productions’ “The Confidence Man”, however, there are six. And thanks to its technologically-enabled interactive event, audience members can edit their narratives together to create their own multi-layered experience in this original, gripping show.
Equipped with smartphones and headsets, audience members survey the action from the perimeter of a stage divided up like blueprint of a suburban home, eavesdropping on the pre-recorded dialogue of the characters’ most private thoughts and conversations by flicking through character choices on screen. This makes for an intimate yet shared theatrical experience unlike any other you will have experienced and brings a lot of fun to what is initially a deceptively simple drama as audience members switch character channels and perspectives in response to the points and laughter of fellow observers of the divided action.
When family friend Sam brings a sports bag full of cash into the domestic home of Pete, his wife Susan and daughter Anita, he walks into an ordinary, but still complicated family dynamic. But things then take a sinister and ultimately shocking turn as the on-stage stories cleverly interweave and gun-toting drug dealing duo Alex and Maria pay visit to recoup their spoils of crime swag.
The characters are played by six pre-show volunteers, equipped with headsets to assist them in navigation of the space, but also giant, highly exaggerated masks of almost Asian theatre and early gaming character hybrid. Although intriguing in themselves, their distinctness also assists audience members to quickly acquaint themselves with who is who. Even the layout of images screen for selection is helpful, grouping characters in terms of relationships. And switching between channels causes no disruption to the timing and entwinement of the stories.
Clearly, this is far from a realistic work, not only through staging and characters but the in-ear voice which both shares dialogue and verbalises the action (which sometimes actually disconnects the audience experience). Initially, this is a comic treat as stage directions instruct characters to consume biscuits and walk a giant stuffed dog, however, when the criminals commandeer the house, the dark comedy escalates quickly to the point that rather than just outer dialogue, voice overs take turn into powerful and poetic self-aware description of inner thoughts.
The complexity of “The Confidence Man” results in a deliciously dark, absorbing theatrical experience. Although it is obviously variable dependent upon performers, the fact that audiences can switch between characters and back upon desire allows for all sorts of possibilities within the parameters of the main plot points and ultimate outcomes, caters for even those theatre-goers with the most transient of attention spans.
The language of the overwhelmingly positive can be a strain, but “The Confidence Man” is worthy of every hyperbolic descriptor, ensuring that long after seeing it, you’ll remain awestruck and singing its praises to anybody who’ll listen as you try to drag them along with you for a repeat experience … because when audience members are lingering without leaving after seeing the show, too engaged with talking about the performance, it is pretty clear that the work is something very special indeed.