The Destroyed Room

With typical modesty (not), Glasgow-based Vanishing Point describe themselves as “Scotland’s foremost artist-led independent theatre company, internationally recognised and acclaimed for its distinctive, ground-breaking and visionary work”. This doesn’t mean they can’t be populist; their 2014 collaboration with Eden Court Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland, The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, was a delightfully self-conscious work full of wit, pathos and humour. But they also produce more unorthodox works, of which The Destroyed Room is definitely an example. Sadly, a poor example.

only the most naive viewer can believe that the following hour is largely improvised

Three Vanishing Point veteran performers – Elicia Daly, Pauline Goldsmith, and Barnaby Power – step onto a set that has the air of a slightly abstract sitting room: sparse furniture, white walls and a small but significant collection of wine bottles. There are also two video cameramen, who capture the images of the cast that the audience can see on a large screen above them. We’re told that what follows will be an improvised discussion, triggered by a question that only one of the cast knows in advance: on the night of this review, “Do you think that we are happier nowadays?”

Yet only the most naive viewer can believe that the following hour is largely improvised; almost immediately the conversation swerves, with all the subtlety of an ice-skating elephant, onto social media – specifically Facebook – and how “we see a lot of people’s lives” compared to previous generations. Then as the wine flows and the arguments get louder, it becomes clear from the anticipatory choreography of the cameramen that much of what the cast do is just as preplanned. Frankly, though, it’s difficult to see what point an ill-framed close-up makes, beyond poorly reproducing the experience of any live audience watching the recording of a television programme.

To their credit, all three of the “cast” come across as distinctive characters. Goldsmith is all too ready to excuse her aggression as “passion” inspired by climate change, “the free movement of capital”, and the ongoing refugee crisis. Daly comes across as a self-pitying control-freak who really should keep off the vino. Power, meantime, is the “family man” – a term which raises the hackles of both childless women – with a “motorway car crash” inability to turn away from online execution videos.

On it goes. Gradually, Mark Melville’s rumbling background score grows louder, as a reflective skin of water slowly begins to creep across the dark floor – presumably in an attempt to create some dream-like vision, but proving largely distracting for anyone wondering how thorough the risk assessment was beforehand.

The actors, with some obvious relief, finally leave the stage, where-upon a sequence of the previously mentioned refugee images are projected on the paper-thin walls, before these tear and melt in a manner that’s almost visually interesting. The Destroyed Room is portentous, pretentious and pious. Worst of all, having left us contemplating those harrowing images of desperate refugees in the sea, the cast then have the audacity to come back to get their applause.

Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn


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Since you’re here…

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The Blurb

A co-production with Battersea Arts Centre, in association with Tron Theatre and Eden Court

The Destroyed Room takes its inspiration from Jeff Wall’s famous photograph, which shows a ransacked room, where every item of furniture has been torn up and destroyed. What happened?

It begins with what seems to be the recording of a debate, as guests gather to digest world events. They sit among potted plants and standard lamps, discussing the things they have witnessed and debating the ethics of watching. Around them, cameras film their every word and every reaction, beaming them live onto a big screen. As the debate intensifies, slowly and as if in a dream, the atmosphere begins to change.

The Destroyed Room is about the profusion of lenses, which bring the world right into our rooms but also keep it at a distance. It’s about what we see and what we turn away from. And what’s coming.

Following Interiors, The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler and Tomorrow, The Destroyed Room is the latest show from the internationally renowned Vanishing Point.

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