By Flora Norton
Café Play is a one-of-a-kind experience that will force you out of your comfort zone and invert the ‘audience-actor’ boundaries that you’ve become accustomed to. There are few times in your life when you have the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with a complete stranger about something completely fabricated and I found the experience entertaining, thrilling and oddly therapeutic.
On a sunny morning this week I ventured out into Coburg, a corner of the city I’d never explored before, with no expectations and no reservations about what was to come. After meeting the Café Play representatives at the secret location, I was escorted to a table in a coffee shop where a young man dressed in a colourfully striped shirt and blue overalls jumped up from his chair and, tripping over the table legs, rushed to greet me.
What followed was like an excerpt from an episode of ‘Thank God You’re Here,’ except with a nervous, somewhat awkward student as a participant rather than a practised comedian. I was thrown into the deep end immediately with my companion slamming a huge planner down on the table and exclaiming, ‘thank god you came today, I could never have planned this wedding without you.’ It probably took me five minutes to settle into the situation and diffuse the self-consciousness that was threatening to prevent any participation on my part but before long I was deeply engaged in an argument with a stranger over what type of cake we should serve at...well, you'll have to see the show to find out.
When the thirty minutes had expired, my new friend jumped up abruptly, gave me a final hug and disappeared leaving me sitting in the café completely bewildered, trying to make sense of what I’d just witnessed and participated in. I was really struggling to understand the purpose of the interaction which had been so impersonal, so rushed and so completely detached from my reality when I realised that that was exactly the point, and what made Café Play such a fantastic addition to the Melbourne Fringe. I’d just spend thirty minutes on a Thursday morning laughing with a stranger and not once did I think about my own problems, my own anxieties, my own reality. A thirty-minute escape or distraction which is, after all, why most of us go to the theatre in the first place.
Café Play was a brave and energetic attempt at introducing Melbourne to a new form of theatre and I think the concept has huge potential. Advertising the experience as a ‘choose you own adventure’ may be a stretch however since, in my case at least, there was most certainly a script and a story that my companion was reluctant to stray too far from. The experience would have seemed more natural and less contrived had the actor committed more to improvising and reacting however in saying this, he should be commended for his vibrant and friendly energy that would make even the shyest of participants feel comfortable to join in.
The thought of participating in Café Play may seem intimidating to some and too weird to others but I couldn’t recommend it more. A bizarre and exhilarating way to spend a Saturday morning and certainly one that’s worth writing home about.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.