Billed as a "theatre game", Power Story is one part political activism, one part Mad Hatter's Tea Party, and one part Sim City – all set inside the Crystal Maze. We enter the bare performance space to find an intriguing pile of boxes stacked on the floor; we're cast as guests at a country town's bicentennial celebrations, sometime in the middle of this century. But there's a problem. Electricity is rationed, the lights are going out… and worst of all, in the frenetic Mayor's eyes, runaway climate change means there's nowhere left to grow any tea.
The acting isn't always the strongest, but the rehearsed scenes are invariably entertaining – particularly during an all-too-accurate portrayal of a call to a power company's "customer service" line. The meat of the show comes, though, when we start to open those boxes, initially using our own mobile phones to scan a QR code on each one. Guided by videos played on our phones, we learn a little about renewable energy and sustainability, then split into teams to play simple games unpacked from the cardboard crates.
The games are fun, in a scissors-and-sticky-tape kind of way, and do bear a passing resemblance to the themes the show explores. A segment on food miles has us fishing plastic knives and forks out of the "sea", while a game relating to fracking brings the whole group together by asking us to think about the places we live. It's fast-paced and entertaining, but the messages sometimes get lost – there's no time to contemplate what each game is telling us before we're bounced onto the next one. I also benefitted on the day I attended from an especially up-for-it audience; I wonder whether the organisation is sharp enough to cope with a group less willing to improvise.
A couple of aspects are confusing. We start the game with a number of "power cells", and lose or keep them depending on how well we do in the tasks. More than one of my fellow audience didn't understand that, and thought that leaving behind a large number of cells was a good thing. The arrangement with QR codes and YouTube videos also took a bit of explaining, and the cacophony created by having three groups playing different videos at the same time made it difficult to concentrate on the messages they were trying to relay.
The videos also suffer from a sense of imbalance – the implication that all our problems can be solved by waving a renewably-powered magic wand. The most successful part, I thought, came right at the end, when we're confronted with the reality that we'll need to make hard choices about how we use the limited resources we have. By crystallising that abstract thought into a town-planning scenario, Power Story triggered a genuinely thoughtful debate among the audience present, bringing out creative but practical ideas about how we might re-organise ourselves into a less wasteful society.
The story's set in 2050-odd, but the games all relate to the present day – a missed opportunity to build some more narrative, either to deliver a warning or offer a source of hope. So Power Story is flimsy as a piece of theatre, but as a participatory event it's creative and inclusive, and – most of all – fun. If you're up for something "different", then head down to the Warren and play.