REVIEW – Nathan Penlington: Choose Your Own Documentary


By Isabella Fraser

Before entering the venue, every member of the audience is given a small remote control clicker. Now, if you have ever had to fight for control of a remote, this in itself is an exciting start: your own control! Clutching our controls in our hands, we are herded into our seats.

Nathan Penlington created this show, along with a team of filmmakers, Fernando Gutierrez De Jesus, Sam Smaïl and Nick Watson. Penlington is the sole presenter and introduces us to the premise of Choose Your Own Adventure books, his documentary version and the voting system. The show is based on the books and stems from a section of a childhood diary found in a complete second hand set of the books. We, the audience, get to choose how we progress in the search for the original owner of the diary by voting with our remote controls. This occurs through an online system (where we see the percentage of votes) and the pre-recorded filmed action, of which there are many options.

Choose Your Own Adventure books will be memorable to people of a certain age – there are various choices in these books and depending on your choice, you will end up with a different journey and outcome. Choosing from the options available for the documentary turns out to be extraordinarily nerve wracking and anxious ridden. What vote occurs will decide what information we will find out about in the search for the diary owner. It also decides what we examine from Penlington’s own childhood – this turns out to be fascinating but poignant.

Penlington is a self-confessed nerd and extremely likeable. What unfolds (in this version of the show) are his similarities to the character of the mysterious owner of the childhood diary. At every step of the way the audience is asked to make a choice and vote for an option how to proceed. It is entirely unexpected how keenly we share the anxiety of Penlington in the documentary sections we vote for and how determinedly we root for the information that unfolds. The moments of waiting to find out what happens next are genuinely palpable.

Penlington has created a show that involves the audience in a fun interactive game that touches us with its correlation to his life and that of our childhood hopes and fears. An unexpectedly emotional show, it is a reminder that we have many choices in life and those that we take a chance on may very well change our lives.

Nathan Penlington: Choose Your Own Documentary runs until 25 August in the Wine Bar at the Gilded Balloon at 17.00. Running time is 1 hour, 30 mins.

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