HALF REAL | The Border ProjectLeft – Amber McMahon. Photo – Garth Oriander

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game books were a marvelously empowering escape from the difficulties of a childhood where life was like a Punch and Judy show crossed with Sesame Street. The books offered safety in the refuge of an imaginary world, any decision retractable at the turn of a single page. One story read over and over became five different stories, the element of surprise thrilling, buried treasure claimed, death by shark, and surviving a Mayan curse, all in an hour. The power of the page-turn had never been so magnificent. The world outside disappeared, and it was magic!

HALF REAL is a hybrid of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and computer gaming, in the theatrical genre of ‘Who Dunnit?’ The plot determined via an individually-issued gaming console voting system called ‘Zigzag’, an electronic hand tool that displays three colours: red, blue, green. As the story unfolds, we are asked to cast votes, choosing a colour from these three. The percentage is added and displayed, like a computer score. The vector most voted for receives a promotion into the narrative via the characters/actors playing out the scene. Initially, interrogating is fun, then, irritating after thirty minutes or so, feeling disempowered by the realisation that the ‘majority rules’, on what gets the promotion. A tantrum rose and subsided.

The sound, design and video team consisting of: Design Consultant – Geoff Cobham, Lighting Designer – Chris Petridis, Video Artist – Chris More, Video System Designer – Michael Marner, Controller Designers – Ray Gardiner and Matthew Gardiner are a monstrously intelligent, innovative, exciting team of creators presenting a stage environment that not only feels like a game console but is complete with two-dimensional, shadow-animated characters that interact with the live characters/actors.

The entire premise of HALF REAL is an extremely clever one that splits open a myriad of possibilities in setting location, design for theatre, atmosphere, suggesting a new style of Democratic Theatre and developing a new facet of a more inter-dependant relationship between audience and actor. However, as it stands in this moment, the production has an inherent flaw of three-dimensional technology rubbing against a two-dimensional storyline, performed by caricatures. After the novelty of the visual wears off, there really isn’t anything left to engage or connect with – apart from the person next to me’s voting preference, Zigzag lights, and the ever ensuing tantrum of not winning the game.

HALF REAL is a ‘Gamer Production’, an entertainment experience for the competitive that like to have fun, and be actively involved, but not necessarily for those who like to experience the human-ness that comes from a classic live theatre production, and a well-structured narrative. The play has no real inter-linked tension of action within the context of the investigation of the characters, or the murder. Unlike a computer game and Choose -Your-Own-Adventure books, there are no points, consequences, or exciting stakes.

And, as in a well-structured theatrical narrative, there is no crux or crisis point. The game is simply ‘over’.

The raw, human element peppered into this production comes in the form of David Heinrech, Alirio Zavarace and Amber MacMahon who must perform according to the audience vote, never knowing which storyline they will enact. The actors are translucent within the characters, clever and skillful is the art of focus and stillness, in determining a guilty verdict. The addition of a live microphone stage left and right, is used to voice the shadow-animated figures. This layers HALF REAL with a beautiful texture, livening up the filmic, computer game-style flatness giving the ‘half’ its ‘real’.

HALF REAL is a particular style of theatre. It is clear that it extends a ‘Zigzag’ to the non-seasoned theatergoer, providing a seat in a world that perhaps is more interesting and fun than that of the classical or contemporary play. For this, the production has great value and prestige. Unsure of what the audience vote would be on the piece as a theatrical experience... it’s a 55% one-off enjoyment factor vote from this avid Choose-Your-Own-Adventure reader and Theatre Addict.

Malthouse Theatre And Melbourne Festival Present
The Border Project’s
by Duncan Graham

Directed by Sam Haren

Venue: Tower Theatre | The Malthouse, 113 Sturt St Southbank VIC 3006
Dates: 28 September – 15 October, 2011
Times: Tuesday – Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday 9 @ 6pm
Matinees: Thursdays 6 & 13 @ 1pm; Saturdays 8 & 15 @ 2pm
Tickets: $23 – $33
Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au | 03 9685 5111

Part of the 2011 Melbourne Festival

Most read Melbourne reviews

Master of the deadpan, harsh host of Hard Quiz, and heartless interrogator on Hard Chat, making...

It doesn’t matter how much you know or care about the legality of the Essendon Football Club...

If you’re looking for a show that’s completely different and unlike anything you’ve seen in...

For fans of the musical, the problems and changes to the book and plot of Chess are as familiar...

Swapping 16th Century Verona for 1930s Hollywood, and a lengthy title for the short and snappy...