By Jen Bolsover
This is interactive theatre for a generation that has only recently grown old enough to appreciate nostalgia. John Robertson knows his market – late 70s and 80s babies who grew up playing text adventures on the earliest home computers – and he has the viciousness of these games down pat.
Participants are selected from the audience to play The Dark Room, a game created by Robertson as an homage to games like Zork and Dungeon. The player is, for no discernable reason, in a dark room and must escape by selecting the correct text commands. It’s hellishly hard (though apparently not unwinnable, since a small number of intrepid souls have prevailed.)
The results of each choice are narrated with hyperactive energy by Robertson, and it says a great deal for his charisma that he can shout so much and still be an engaging and often hilarious host. His love for these games is evident, as is his relish for the role of gamesmaster, meting out arbitrary and nonsensical deaths with devilish glee. He is also a master of improvisation, bantering with the crowd in such a relaxed, assured manner that it is difficult to see the joins between the scripted parts and the off the cuff patter.
The technical set-up is quietly impressive. The wire contraption that Robertson wears, hosting the controller that he uses to enact the players’ choices, looks wonderfully home-made. Yet there’s never a hitch – his button selection is deft, and the projections, which can be such a problem for Fringe shows with tight turn-arounds and little tech time, work smoothly at all times.
If computer games were never a part of your childhood experience (or if you were both too late to understand the charm of games where the graphics weren’t just bad but non-existent), this may not be your cup of tea. It is definitely aimed at a very particular niche. If, on the other hand, you have always had a fondness for being eaten by a grue, this is a show you must see.
John Robertson: The Dark Room runs at Underbelly until 24 August at 20.30. Running time is 1 hour.