How do you review a show with 1,566 possible permutations? The first step, I suppose, is realising that for all its path-choosing, button-pressing gimmickry, there can surely only be a handful of conclusions to Nathan Penlington’s nostalgia-saturated story of adolescence and schlock fiction. Even so, it’s worth noting that your experience of ‘Choose Your Own Documentary’ will almost certainly be different to mine, and could, as Penlington warns us from the outset, ‘end suddenly and horribly’.
Part live storytelling, part film screening, ‘Choose Your Own Documentary’ kicks off with Penlington – a nerdish hybrid of Dave Gorman and Sue Perkins – telling us about the time he bought the first 106 books in Edward Packard’s Choose Your Own Adventure series on eBay. Inside one of the books he finds a haunting diary page from the book’s 15-year-old former owner, Terence, whom he sets about tracking down.
From here, the power is quite literally (thanks to little multiple-choice zappers) in the audience’s hands. Should he consult a handwriting expert or a psychic? Does he head to Terence’s local library for clues, or roam the streets of Birmingham toting a sandwich board? It doesn’t really matter, of course, because the story’s headed in the same direction regardless; we’re simply choosing which parts of the film to omit. And therein lies the show’s weakness.
As a documentary and an ode to childhood, ‘Choose Your Own Documentary’ is thoroughly compelling and told with wit and charm. But the clever-clogs format feels wanting: maybe that’s entirely the point, but unlike Penlington and Terence, we can’t just flip back to page one and start the adventure all over again.