Rory O'Keeffe: The 37th Question | Edinburgh Fringe review by Jay Richardson
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Rory O'Keeffe: The 37th Question

Edinburgh Fringe review by Jay Richardson

A curate's egg of a show, Rory O'Keeffe's storytelling hour engages and frustrates with the promise of a chance to dictate the narrative, yet no opportunity to know if you made the best choice beyond returning to see it again. Even then, you could be none the wiser, such are the perils of democracy.

What is are, of course, the fundamental basis of romantic longing. And O'Keeffe has taken inspiration from his day job, writing choose-your-own adventure apps for shows like X-Factor and Love Island - by his own admission, cynically extorting money from teenage girls - and applied it to the dating phenomenon of 36 Questions.

Brought to prominence by a 2015 New York Times article, the concept involves a date in which a prospective couple quiz each other over a series of pre-ordained, leading questions, the idea being that they foster intimacy and vulnerability while affording opportunities to compliment the other person.

So far, so high-concept. Yet for his story, O'Keeffe makes the beneficiaries of this thoroughly modern courting an established couple, Zoe and Stuart, a literary agent and scientist who were introduced by a mutual friend, hit it off over the quiz, and now seem to be moving inexorably towards marriage. Of course, it's not going to be that straightforward, as Zoe develops a creeping suspicion that her boyfriend isn't going to his Spanish lessons but somewhere else.

Taking into account the glint in his eye, professionally compromised morality and frustrations as a hack scribe, I'm choosing to assume that O'Keeffe knows how irritating literary talent spotter Zoe is in particular, the twee rituals and in-jokes of any relationship potentially nauseating to anyone outside of it.

Yet by giving audience members the chance to choose from three options to dictate the story at various junctures, soundtracked by the romantic balladry of Nick Cave, the comic draws you into his tale as surely as a tween hooked on customising her Love Island avatar.

As with his fiendish apps though, the appearance of eclectic choice is sometimes illusory, a good gag when confessed at the time, frustrating in retrospect.

Similarly to John Robertson's cult interactive comedy The Dark Room, this in-built fatalism could be seen as reflecting the que será, será of love and life. Or it might just be a lack of resources, with only the big, final choice in The 37th Question thrown open for the whole room to vote on.

That's a pity. Because while O'Keeffe is a capable storyteller, employing basic visual and audio aids, the format is undoubtedly highly promising. That was demonstrated on the day I caught it by audible sighs when it grew apparent that we'd fatally torpedoed Zoe and Stuart's relationship, the comic lingering sadistically over the finer details that might have saved them.

Something about the human desire for happy endings might make this a Fringe fixture. But only if O'Keeffe has the chance to programme it with greater interactivity.

Review date: 22 Aug 2018
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Banshee Labyrinth

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