John Robertson: The Dark Room

Returning to the Fringe for the third year running, this text adventure game-gone-big seems to have more lives than it gives its players. Compered by a spectral head that glides through the gloom (or rather, by John Robertson with a maglite and an X-Box controller strapped to his chest), the show sees the audience become adventurers as they "awake to find themselves in a dark room": volunteers must locate the light switch by puzzling through screen upon screen of riddlesome predicaments.

The Dark Room is an innovative hour and Robertson an incredible performer.

Robertson himself is magnificent and menacing and his humour emerges through truly odd logic. His ultra-quick-fire quips rain down without rest for breath. His ad libs to the audience are there in an instant: every word seems to trigger him into a synaptic database stacked full of funnies for any possible event. In the context of a show that revels in retro-gamery and geekdom, his aggression is never alienating. Rather, it only adds to the impression of an oddball who found his forte. He's a mad hatter with an MS-DOS.

Unfortunately, if you're trapped in a dark room, you can't really go anywhere and after a while you start to feel a bit tired. The glitch in the game is that the format feels like it's caught in a feedback loop: simply switching players and beginning all over again with each player's untimely demise becomes a bit boring. Robertson attempts to keep things fresh with different styles of gameplay - single player becomes multiplayer in the 'passive aggressive play' section before chaos reigns in the 'democracy round' - yet ultimate recourse to the same set text means these have little effect. At the end of the hour, the show doesn't find some kind of bombastic boss-level finale, but simply fizzles out with a 'that's the end.'

The Dark Room is an innovative hour and Robertson an incredible performer. But his game is maybe a little too successful in simulating the feel of text adventure games: You never reach the end of the level with a sense of satisfaction. Instead you just lose interest and move on to something else.  

Reviews by Jack Powell

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John Robertson: The Dark Room

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The Blurb

Third fabulous year! World's only live-action adventure game. Fighting fantasy, but no fantasy, just fighting. ‘Ridiculous, illogical, weirdly addictive’ (Guardian). ‘One of the funniest sights around. Don't miss it’ (Telegraph). ***** (Skinny). **** (List). ***** (ThreeWeeks). ***** (Scotsgay). ‘It's a cult, a f**king cult!’ (Kate Copstick). £100 cash prize. Win a full-size bicycle.