Computer games have gotten awfully clever these days. John Robertson’s one man show, The Dark Room, aims to remind us of a simpler, more frustrating time; a time when games carried no mandate to entertain or satisfy, when they roamed free from the dictates of logic or common sense. The Dark Room brings to life the word based computer games of the 80’s, reminding audiences of that very particular type of irritation that only crude software is able to produce.
The premise is simple. Audience members take turns playing Derek, a hapless avatar who wakes in a dark room. They are presented with a series of options and John, personifying the punitive video game, explains how each decision improbably backfires and ultimately leads to Derek’s death. Reach for a light (how can you reach for a light in a dark room), Go North (how can you know which way North lies?) Go back to sleep (you wake, again, to find yourself in a dark room). It quickly emerges that the game is impossible to win and gradually the options start to reflect this futility; in advanced rounds, Derek is left to either weep or flip off the screen.
The brisk, hour-long performance is conducted entirely in darkness. This seems to prompt a more atavistic response in the audience, who, by the end of the show are comfortable heckling indiscriminately. While the show works well with large audience numbers, in some ways, one suspects it would be more suited to an intimate venue. Audience participation is the show’s driving force and at times, our ability to collaborate and co-conspire against the game dissipates across the auditorium.
Towards the end, the predictability of the rounds start to wear thin, though Robertson does an admirable job of injecting some spontaneity into each iteration of the game. That said, the show’s crescendo Democracy Round, seems a fun and appropriate place to declare Game Over. Those who squirm at the thought of audience participation should steer well clear of The Dark Room, as should those who relish plot development or structure. However, anyone with a nagging nostalgia for the 80’s or who are curious to experience just what Camus was talking about when he wrote most of his material, will probably enjoy and gain something from the experience. 3/5
Review written by Sean Gilbert.
The Dark Room was shown at the Udderbelly, Southbank on Saturday 28th May. For more information on John Robertson, visit here…