An excellent concept is given a bit of a rough delivery in this immersive fantasy adventure, where you decide the outcome and save or scupper the future of Gobland. For older children and lovers of classic role-play games (RPG to those in the know), this is a chance to see your own experiences brought to life, but younger families beware: it isn’t easy-going.
Gobland For The Goblins! will certainly be a crowd pleaser for many families at the Festival Fringe.
Beginning in the “real” world with our goblin protagonist Spot’s very real argument over video games vs bedtime, the stage is set for a nice replaying of their favourite level as, for an unexplained reason, Spot soon finds themself trapped inside their beloved game and on a quest to save the kingdom. Four children who were chosen in the ticket queue are seated at the front, poised to make key decisions that will shape the story - it’s a neat idea and works well, with a cast that adapt extremely quickly to what must have been an endless combination of possible different decisions.
It’s easy to keep track of what’s going on, as the video screen that dominates the upper stage displays and selects choices in a familiar video-game style, with some beautiful original illustrations by Eleanore Dambre. This screen is utilised well for the battles that will please old and new gamers alike, complete with an 8-bit score by Jessica Kelly that brings back memories of exploring maps and raiding caves from my own teenage years.
My issues with this production lie in the onstage action itself. The initial character choice of wizard, rogue or warrior is a tried-and-tested for formula for any seasoned role-player, but the execution of this decision seemed a little haphazard. Rather than providing a clear voting structure for the audience to either raise their hand or cheer when prompted, a rather naive reliance on the confidence to shout out for themselves often left votes such as these dangling rather awkwardly in the air. This also happened with several other open-ended questions, which had me wondering why four children were nominated to be the decision makers for the game at all. It seems the production doesn’t quite commit to trusting the audience with key decisions, and moments where only a few suggestions had been shouted out led to the cast making up their own answers, which seemed a little unfair to the children who had been brave enough to contribute.
I really wanted more from this production: standout performances from Jenny Quinn as roguish goblin Spark and John Spilsbury’s omnipresent Game Announcer kept the pace lively when they were onstage, but other members of the cast lack the energy and charisma needed to pull off terrifying villains and brave heroes as the story dictates. The script will be instantly recognisable to those familiar with the genre, with some enjoyably niche references, but feels needlessly complex at times and has a tendency to be melodramatic to the point of obscuring the plot.
This aside, the production values and original concept of Gobland For The Goblins! will certainly be a crowd pleaser for many families at the Festival Fringe. If you keep your ticket stub you will get the opportunity to revisit Gobland for half-price and see what difference new choices could make; another good idea that will probably lead to this show being a sell-out success.