views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Canal Café
26th August 2015


Edwin Wright and Tim Dawkins

Photography provided by Theatre of a Thousand Names Or...

Do you remember those pick your own adventure books from when you were a kid? Chances are, if you're any younger than my generation, the reference means nothing to you, however Edwin Wright and Tim Dawkins clearly remember the genre with the same fondness as I do. Before point and click computer games really look off, we were all turning to page 63 to see if we would get any further in our adventure or if we would simply end up dead. In which case, we would all silently go back a page and save the day.

In Decide-A-Quest, our hero (Wright) - and I use the word "hero" loosely - must decide whether to go questing with an indecisive procrastinator (Dawkins) he runs into one day. Things get off to a somewhat ropy start, but the hapless duo are rescued by Limpy (a confused but good-natured member of the audience) and they're on track to find the mysterious Yeti. Or are they?

The concept itself is frankly genius, and both Wright and Dawkins attack it with enthusiasm. Questing dilemmas can be seen on our "book" projected onto the stage's brought forward back wall, but if you can't quite read the text from where you're sitting, the narrator (also Dawkins) does the honour for you anyway. As an audience, we're asked to help determine what happens next, but it's unclear as to whether the comedians were always responding to what they thought we were shouting out, or if they were always propelling the action forward according to their own plans. I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest that on the occasions when they did seem to disobey the audience majority, it was simply down to mishearing.

Where the show lets itself down is in the length of the sequences. Every time we choose the questers' next move, there's a long piece of action, thus making the performers the two drivers again, rather than us. Given the genre, we want to be more in control and more often - short, punchier cut scenes and more choices to be made would make this production far tighter and more engaging. Although it's only one change, it would admittedly involve a lot more technical work behind the scenes. I appreciate it's a big ask, but you couldn't accuse Dawkins and Wright of not being committed to this piece.

It really is a wonderful formula, one which like The Play That Goes Wrong could be honed to a fine art, then have a number of different themes applied to keep it fresh. The Murder Before Christmas is essentially the same as The Play That Goes Wrong, and yet I've seen both and laughed just as hard at both each time. Doing something in a similar vein would allow the Decide-A-Quest formula to be reused on multiple occasions without it ever getting tired, and without audiences getting bored. This show after all involves far more improv and has an inbuilt actual unpredictability rather than a predictable unpredictability. It lends itself very well to recycling.

All that Wright and Dawkins really need to do is increase the number of potential decisions per show. They bounce off each other brilliantly, and are incredibly endearing in their deliberately ramshackle double act. Together, they could feasibly create Decide-A-Quest: The Search for the Yeti, Decide-A-Quest: The Voyage Home... maybe not. But you see where I'm going here; there's a thrillingly exciting potential for this concept to establish itself and really have legs.

Decide-A-Quest is an energetic hour-long show packed full of laughs, plenty of costume changes and nostalgia. It doesn't quite know whether it wants to be a play, or a piece of comedy, but that doesn't really matter. I'd love to see Theatre of a Thousand Names Or... further develop and effectively franchise their idea as I had so much fun with Decide-A-Quest, if I could have skipped back a few pages again, I would have done.

Decide-A-Quest ran from 25th to 26th August and runs from 28th to 29th August 2015 at the Canal Café, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Warwick Avenue (Bakerloo)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts