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John Robertson - The Dark Room - Free
Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2012
5

5 stars

Alternative Fringe @ The Hive (venue website)
Comedy
3-27 Aug, 5:00pm-6:00pm
Reviewed by Will Howard

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.
 Recommended for age 18+ only. Venue may not permit under-18's - check with venue before booking.

Brilliance. Innovative, funny, exciting, dark-as-hell brilliance. Six months ago, Australian stand-up comedian John Robertson posted a choose-your-own-adventure-game on YouTube, entitled The Dark Room. In the video, the viewer is told that they have woken up in a dark room, and have to find their way out – accompanied by some less-than-helpful suggestions from Robertson, spotlit by a torch under his chin. It quickly went viral due to its relentlessly dark humour, Robertson’s outrageously hammy narration, and simple yet genius premise. Inspired by its success, he’s taken the premise more than a few steps further, by converting it into a live show – in which a whole roomful of people AWAKE to FIND themselves… in a DARK… ROOOOOOOM!

Essentially, this is an improvised game show, where the player faces (in Robertson’s words) “a brutal Old Testament God who loves grammar, and hates you.” Over the course of an hour, four separate audience volunteers take on The Dark Room, with Robertson acting as some psychotic mix of Chris Tarrant and Brian Blessed.  All the lights are down, except for a contraption on his shoulders illuminating his face – until right at the end, the whole audience joins in to see if they can find their way out of the Dark Room together. I’ll give you a clue, dear reader: chances are they won’t.

The Dark Room as a game is like nothing you’ve ever played before.  You’ll find yourself apologizing to jealous walls, discussing your childhood, discovering that your pockets are made out of green check material (very poor fashion choice there) or yellow Czech material, weeping, dying (many times), and frequently asking “Why are you being so cruel to me!” I’m not making any of this up.

It’s deeply surreal and very, very funny.  For the vast majority of the show, Robertson is improvising, and playing off the audience like a man possessed. He’s sensational at what he does, and manages to infuse his often deeply insulting patter with enough wit and energy to keep everyone (even those his vitriol is directed at) deeply entertained. From time to time he can lose track of his own game – but it’s so chaotic, and he’s doing so much in the first place, that it is entirely justified.

In fact there’s only one real problem with the show as a whole, setting aside the fact that the whole production is the dictionary definition of an “Acquired Taste”: for those who don’t get involved, it may be a little boring. There is one remedy for this, and it’s quite simple. Get involved! Volunteer to play the game, verbally spar with Robertson, scream and shout when he commands you to.  This is a piece of interactive theatre; it doesn’t work if the audience doesn’t interact.

This is only the fourth show I’ve seen on this year’s Fringe, but I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most innovative shows I’ll see all year. Even leaving that aside, it’s an absolutely hysterical ride – provided you invest enough of yourself in it. Do yourself a favour and experience this show; it’s free, so you’ve got nothing to lose. Well, except that (at least in the game’s universe), you might spend the rest of your life in a dark room. I’m still there myself, and it’s still worth it

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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