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Writers/Producers/Creators: Adam Brown and Kenneth Gaffney
Directed by: The Ensemble
Brought to you by: Team Algora

at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 12 Aug 2014 to 16 Aug 2014

Reviewed by John Smythe, 13 Aug 2014

It's a serious business, this video gaming thing, and obviously Kenneth Gaffney is a big fan. His Toi Whakaari Go Solo 2012 piece, Knights of the Almafi Cross, played with the genre, albeit by juxtaposing it with a real life scenario.

In the wake of that research project he and some friends formed Team Algora to share their love of role-playing video games, an endeavour that has now spawned this developmental stage play, Shadows of Algora. It has been created by Gaffney and Adam Brown, and is performed by them with Diesel McGrath and Jacob Dale (plus Mike Jones in voice-over roles and Tony Black operating lights). The director credit goes to the Ensemble.  

Being of the generation that simultaneously objected to the Vietnam war, fomented the socio-sexual revolution and embraced J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy as some sort of counter-cultural ‘bible', I'm not about to fret at simplistic Good vs Evil warmongering inherent in the genre. There is clearly some part of the human psyche – the male psyche in particular – than needs to engage with such fantasies.

Shadows of Algora involves a mythical kingdom presided over by the King and his Council of Echelons representing 11 regions, defended by The Crimson Legion, sworn to uphold The Iron Order. It is here that Ancient Evils are surfacing in the form – and guts – of Dragons; where gemstones hold magical properties that may be used for good in certain hands or go bad in certain guts.

Realising much of the enjoyment comes from active participation in the video game formats, Team Algora has devised a system whereby we in the audience get to make choices the actors must follow. An overhead projector offers three alternatives, we vote with shows of hands, the lighting operator floods the stage with a colour that denotes which number has won, and the story proceeds.

It's not so much ‘pick a path' (no option significantly alters the basic plot) as ‘pick a tone' that informs how a problem gets solved or an issue gets dealt with. As such we hold the metaphorical felt-tips in a pre-outlined ‘colour by numbers' epic adventure.

Gaffney plays Harrow, the Champion who sets out on the inevitable quest to save us all; McGrath plays his brother Lance and Brown his best friend Urden; Jacob Dale plays the Master Thief Thrix and Lord of the Elves Myrax Videll. They all pick up various miscellaneous roles encountered en route, which can get a bit confusing when characters are not clearly differentiated and all are clad in the same basic black with no distinguishing features.

On opening night the well-disposed audience seems to be so intent on working out who is whom and what's going on, and the actors seem to be so deeply and seriously ‘in role', that's there's not a lot of fun to be had in playing the game. Let's hope it will loosen up as the season progresses.  

I can't help wondering if the studious adherence to the ‘fourth wall' is the best way to go in a theatrical adaptation. What would some ‘direct address', and even a bit of campaigning in support of various choices, do to enliven proceedings? It seems to me there is more to explore in bringing such games to the stage.
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