The Time Capsule: A Pick Your Own Adventure Play – Landor Space, London

Devisers: Kirsty Langley, Sarah Rickman and PJ Stanley

Director: PJ Stanley

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

A popular range of children’s books in the 1980s was the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which required the reader to make decisions at the bottom of each page that would potentially veer the story off into radically different directions.

Theatre company The Juice Factory is aiming to recreate that feel within the setting of a play. Each member of the audience is given a paddle – one side red, the other black – and at several moments, votes take place to determine what happens next.

But where the novel form of this multi-branching structure found new freedoms from the interactive nature of its storytelling, there is a sense that The Time Capsule’s interactivity is a feint. The audience decisions may make small changes to the subsequent scene, but the overarching plot would remain the same.

If only the plot were a little better executed. Five old school friends are reunited at the behest of a sixth friend, JB, who does not show up to the reunion but instead presents them with the time capsule they buried while still at school, along with the first in a series of cryptic puzzles. As the quintet follow the path of clues, they recreate their old high school prom, and confront some long-dormant demons along the way.

Most potentially interesting of characters is Wesley Magee’s Charlie, who had a brief marriage with Kirsty Langley’s Ellie while forever holding a torch for her best friend (Sarah Rickman) – and, true to form, the resolution of his romantic storyline forms the principal backbone to the whole play. Other subplots fare less well, most notably a bullying subplot which gives Raymond Hemson some potentially meaty work to do, only for it to be forgotten as quickly as it surfaces.

The play also suffers from never quite working out whether its characters are regressing to childhood, travelling in time or merely recreating events from their school days. And while George Kemp acts as an effective Emcee, engaging the audience as they prepare for each decision, it does tend to feel like the interactive elements are covering for a lack of real substance to the play.

A final epilogue, delivered by Kemp, hints at what The Juice Factory may have been hoping to achieve, suggesting that the decision-making process might spur the audience to ruminate on life choices and decisions that we may regret now, to consider the road not taken. Maybe with a truly linear storyline, and greater care taken to script, dialogue and story, The Time Capsule could have illustrated that without resorting to gimmickry.

Runs until 29 July | Image: 

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