Money and blackmail, threats and violence and…masks? Audience participation? What does it all mean?
This is ‘The Confidence Man’, being performed at Arts House in North Melbourne. It is an intense and dark play, but will change from performance to performance due to the high level of audience participation. The play has a highly intimate nature, letting the audience in on the thoughts as well as spoken words of the characters, as well as the stage directions, and the sound and lighting is brilliantly created to suit the tone of the performance. Directed and co-written by Zoe Pepper (the other co-writer is Adriane Daff), the play is brought to the public with Side Pony Productions.
The most striking part of the performance is that the audience are the participants. There are six characters in the play, and they are acted out by the audience. There are audio tracks for both the performers and audience, and each of the characters has an independent track for their thoughts, actions and words. Because of this, the performance is incredibly intimate, as the individual can follow the inner sentiments of the character throughout the entire show (for example, I followed the character Sam for most of the show) or you can flick between the characters. The only downside of this is that sometimes elements of the plot or character development for the other characters can be overlooked, especially if you don’t decide on any character. That is not to say you don’t know what’s going on – other characters that interact with the one being listened to can be heard, and visually you can see what’s going on onstage. But it makes things interesting, that’s for sure.
Masks are used so the audience can identify the characters. Since the actual performers change from show to show, it makes sense to have the characters represented in this fashion. The masks also are representative of the different characters in some manners as well (for example, the dark hair for the thug). Whilst there is some clothing provided for some characters, other costumes appear to be the clothing of the everyday man (or woman – interestingly, most of the male characters were performed by women this time round). Aside from the costumes, the props were well set up, with a well lit stage. It was easy to be transported to the world which this play was occurring in, especially with the intimate nature of the thoughts being exposed to the audience.
Dark and gripping, The Confidence Man is a worthwhile play, wonderfully crafted and put together by Pepper and her team. The closeness between the audience and the performers is refreshingly original, so close it actually involves the audience as performers, which will make every show a unique experience for all involved. The intimacy of looking into a house, aided by the light and sound, makes the entire show a truly unique and enriching experience for all. Highly recommended.
Side Pony Productions, directed by Zoe Pepper and written by Zoe Pepper and Adriane Daff
Wednesday 28th August – Sunday 1 September. A post-show Q&A will be held on Thursday 29 August.
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall