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The Confidence Man: remote-controlled theatre

– by Jen Perry

Presented by Perth Theatre Company and Side Pony Productions, The Confidence Man is a “choose your own adventure style psychotic thriller.” Sam brings a bag full of cash is brought into Peter, Susan and Anita’s humble but strained Australian home. Maria snorts coke in a nearby building and awaits her partner Alex’s arrival. The ensuing deceit, intrigue and unfortunate chain of events unfolds in schizophrenic real time, as the individual audience member is given the opportunity to listen in to whichever action and character he or she wishes. Each person is given a set of headphones and a smart phone with the images of all six characters. Each of the six characters are sat around the perimeter of the space, just like the audience members, but are wearing giant exaggerated masks. Kudos to mask designer Rebecca Baumann whose creations highlight the heightened emotions and individualities of their characters, emphasising the absurdity of their situations. We are also told that the six actors on stage are in fact our fellow audience members.

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The Confidence Man might not have worked so well if it wasn’t so well worked. Director Zoe Pepper admits in the director’s notes that this production “was a long time coming” and it very much shows. Every detail in the constructed rooms, every line of dialogue you choose to hear and every direction given to the instant actors on stage has been meticulously crafted to if not perfection then something close. It’s wonderful to go to a performance and not only be completely led along the action but also given a choice as to which actions you decide are most important.

While the set is masterfully laid out, at once familiar and distinctive, the most enjoyable aspects of this performance are the voice works and ambient sound design. Sam Price designed both the audio arrangement and sound while Ash Gibson Greig composed the music. I initially chose to listen in to Anita, as she walked her dog around her room. The bubble gum music of youth as background to the cheerful inquisitive tween ramblings was a perfect introduction to how sound and voice would be used to colour the story. Individual voice work was also fantastic, the nuances of each character’s dialogue differentiated from their internal monologues, giving them all layers of interest. Commendations must also be given to Adriane Daff and Zoe Pepper as writers for doing the work of six plays and giving their individual characters all the realistic thoughts, desires and perceptions of individual people.

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Theatre occupies a unique space in the arts. It can push boundaries of the unfamiliar whilst still giving the audience the comfort of drama. The use of technology, interactive participation and compelling storytelling renders The Confidence Man an important piece of contemporary theatre. The media and the message are so well integrated that you feel completely immersed in this environment. In an age where people are constantly stimulated by the technology around us, the ability to change the channel on what’s happening feels at once liberating and conspiratorial. I cannot wait for what Zoe Pepper and her team come up with next.

 

Warning: This performance contains adult concepts and frequent coarse language.

See The Confidence Man at Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA until Sunday May 10th. Visit Perth Theatre Company’s website for more information.

Photos courtesy of Perth Theatre Company.

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