The creator of ROOM, James Thierree, was born into a busy circus family and this mind-bending spectacle is spun from every thread of that quirky upbringing. As the audience take their seats at the King’s Theatre we seem to be looking at an empty stage with abandoned bits of backstage junk scattered around. A mumbling man appears scanning a set of building plans. As he argues in gobbledygook with an equally unintelligible builder, the ‘junk’ appears to burst into life and move. To gasps from the audience, loads of tall, skinny clapboards veer and scuttle around the stage at alarming speed, transforming the space into a giant steep-walled room. Thus we have the title of the show, which turns out to be the last piece of logic obtainable for the rest of the performance.
For the next 95 minutes we are bedazzled by a fevered rush of frenzied scenes – in turns dark, surreal or hilarious – as Thierree’s bumbling lead character is beset by a set of misshapen, angular and odd creatures who taunt, scream, mime and sing at him in rooms of many shapes.
The stage is literally on the move from the beginning, heaved around by cast and crew as props and sets appear and vanish. A fractured narrative which seems to suggest a dark night of the soul spotlights some spectacular acrobatics, puppetry and seriously weird demons played by a cast of truly talented performers. Each is a competent musician with highly developed mime and dance skills. Rarely leaving the stage, the extensive troupe adopts various roles from jazz ensemble to operatic singer – from scenery technicians to scuttling mime insects. The entire performance is a giant piece of choreography which sees characters popping in and out of fireplaces, slithering up walls, popping up from writing desks or transforming into scaled, battling creatures.
While the pandemonium onstage may have rowdy, chaotic quality it’s actually a very heavily rehearsed mayhem – a mind-bending Dali-esque vision where the darkest, creepiest and twisted elements of surrealist minds are coupled with slapstick humour reminiscent of the Marx brothers their oddball finest.
Special awards should go to dancer and musician Ching-Ying Chien whose hyper-mobile limbs would scare the finest chiropractor – moving effortlessly from a scuttling floor level insect to an animated euphonium – and the nine-person set design team who created a stunning animated wonder.
But what is it all about? Who knows? This crowd were too busy staring agog at impossible stunts and illusions or screaming with laughter when some demented character appeared at the top of a 30-foot wall, or squirming with goosebumps while a strange pencil-thin lady stood at an impossible angle creaking her limbs in twitchy spasms while singing a beautiful operatic aria.
Maybe it’s supposed to be a tortured nightmare – a demented vision or the inner horrors of the composer trying to create this very work. If Room ever gets the chance to be a movie though, directorial duties must surely go to David Lynch.
With thanks to Malcolm McGonigle for this review. Images © EIF.