Interview by Graham Chalmers
For a very nice, young-ish man, Nathan Penlington gets himself in some weird situations.
One of his recent shows, Uri & Me, proved so popular with Uri Geller himself that the famous psychic spoonbender invited Nathan round to his house.
His latest venture, the amazingly entertaining Choose Your Own Documentary which comes to Harrogate Theatre next month, features a storyline decided each night by the audience itself - which means it has 1,566 possible versions.
Before you ask the question “who is Nathan Penlington?” it might help put you at your ease to learn that this one-man show was an Edinburgh Fringe First award last year.
What’s more, it’s been nominated for another award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
That’s because, being Nathan, Choose Your Own Documentary is as much a movie as a play - and it’s based on a series of famous children’s books from the 80s and 90s and. . .
Over to Nathan himself.
“It’s very exciting. Tribeca has an interactive strand. My show straddles a few genres -theatre, performance, film. Interaction is becoming a growing genre. In a way, it’s a bit like how computer games work.”
It has also helped the show’s popularity that the original inspiration - and part of the format - comes from the Choose Your Own Adventure series of children’s books.
Nathan said: “I was a huge fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid. I got my first one in the 80s by collecting Weetabix tokens.
“A few years ago I decided to track them all down.I bought the first 106 on ebay But I had no idea in advance how popular the books were in the US. They sold 250 milion copies there.”
While the books allow the reader to assum the role of the protagonist and make choices that determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome, Nathan’s one-man stage show is partly a mystery story in which audience members choose the next film clip by remote control devices.
In theory, Nathan has no idea what will happen next or how long each show will last.
Does anyone ever complain they’ve left their supper in the oven and need to get home by a certain time?
“No one’s said anything yet. The longest it can possibly go on for is 90 minutes but if the audience chooses incredibly badly it could be a very short story.”
Despite the rave reviews for Choose Your Own Documentary, surely you’re just being lazy, Nathan?
“Ha! I think the opposite. I’ve had to put a lot more work into it to make sure whatever the audience chooses, the adventure has a few surprises and a compelling narrative.”
A man born for the current mixed-up digital era, life seems like one giant mash-up for Rhyl-born Nathan.
He actually started off as a magician, a much misunderstood field he believes is the ultimate in audience interaction.
Since then he’s been a writer, poet, live literature producer and magician - often simultaneously.
Tell me about your Uri Geller show.
“I loved his act and he loved my show. After seeing it a few times, he invited me to his house and gave me 11 of his shirts he used to wear at his peak of fame in the 1970s.
“I think he became obsessed with me being obsessed with him.
“I can’t say too much, he’s a bit litigious!”
So, once your non-stop tour with Choose Your Own Documentary ends, what’s next?
I’m not sure what I’m going to do now but I’ve got a few other obsessions I want to explore. I like to constantly try things I haven’t done before.”
“One thing I’d love to do is a version of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds musical where alll the roles are played by comedians. ”
This time it’s my turn to laugh.
l Nathan Penlington presents Choose Your Own Documentary, Harrogate Theatre, Friday, May 16.
For tickets, call 01423 502116 or book online at www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk