Clever twist in The Confidence Man


The Confidence Man

3 stars

Perth Theatre Company and Side Pony Productions

Studio Underground


I am Sam.

I’m driving down a dark road when I hit something. There’s a body, and it’s not moving. I panic and drive home. Now I’m on a train, going to my family lawyer Peter’s house. I stumble across a bag in a park, and it’s full of money. Hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I pick it up, take it to Peter’s. He’s there with his wife Susan and teenage daughter Anita.

I’m talking Peter into giving me an alibi for the night of the accident — he’s unwilling, but I pile the pressure on.

There’s a small box in the money bag. It’s flashing — a tracking device! I hide it, stash the money, got to get out of there. But now there are two other people in the house. Scruffy, wild-eyed. With guns.

It’s a pretty standard thriller — Lantana meets Pulp Fiction — nothing to write home about.

But there’s a big, big twist. I AM Sam.

Theatre is generally a low-tech enterprise. Sure, little apples gleam in the dark from lighting and sound desks, but the essential business of theatre remains the activity of people deploying their skills and training in real time, and in person, in front of you.

In Zoe Pepper and Adriane Daff’s The Confidence Man, all that human endeavour is pre-packaged and handed over to the audience to play with. The apples have taken over the orchard.

Audience members wearing huge, cartoonish masks play The Confidence Man’s six characters. They each have a smart phone that gives them individual stage instructions and plays their pre-recorded dialogue for them to mime to. The rest of the audience sits in a single row around a huge set, the floor plan of Pete’s house. Each wears a headset and cradles a smart phone with which they can pick and choose the characters they follow.

There’s a clear legitimacy to this approach, because it more accurately imitates life than conventional theatre, where the audience sees everything from a single point of view. Here the audience sees only part of the story, from one of several perspectives. It’s an intriguing method of storytelling, and makes the plot three-dimensional and genuinely exciting as it reaches its climax.

The Confidence Man is a little clunky, mainly because, while it’s a lot of fun to watch your fellow audience members in action, the performances are perforce very basic (I was a truly terrible Sam). But its technical achievement is impressive, and the effect of it very striking. It would be fascinating to see it performed by rehearsed actors, and to see the techniques Pepper and Daff have devised used in the service of a more substantial and nuanced story.

The Confidence Man ends on May 10.