The Dark Room review

Andrew is impressed by The Dark Room, John Robertson's clever, fun text adventure game-based Edinburgh Fringe show...

Somewhere in an old chamber in the Cowgate – one of the country’s most vibrant gutters – an Australian man with Satanic candy floss hair and a retina-searing grin is booming at a partially suspecting crowd: 


This is why. 

A child of the Eighties, John Robertson remembers text-based adventure games. I distantly recall my school’s BBC computer, with its floppy disc containing a tortuous purgatory involving a quest and a tetchy wizard, but more familiar to me were the ‘Choose your own Adventure’ books (the first computer my parents bought was a Mac, and I still haven’t completed the first Discworld game). Many of you of a similar age will recall the strange determination to exhaust every possible option, despite your many ensuing deaths, and the sense that the narrator of these tales was entirely motivated by hatred. 

The above YouTube video is variation on this, a near-impossible day-stealing adventure game that treats you like utter scum and has no time for your bleating protestations regarding things such as ‘sense’ and ‘logic’. Its live version is well-staged, more inventive than simply sticking a head through a curtain, and involves audience interaction. Six contestants will attempt to play. There are prizes for this (The Cyberman’s spine I coveted went teasingly unclaimed by the end of the night). 

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Robertson chooses his players after an introductory spiel introducing the context and the tone. There is an obvious love of gaming involved here, and a lot of nods to those with the requisite knowledge of DOS command lines and the feeling that this game actually detests and despises you, wishing your in-game deaths were manifest. 

If you’re not into that, there’s still the spectacle of a leering man imbuing a horror-film scenario with a sense of gleeful absurdity. There’s a script in place, but its in Robertson’s quick-witted audience interaction that the show can really excel. In his guise as an ‘Old Testament God/Games master’ he has given himself an excellent position to mock his audience. The severity of this depends on the audience members. Some, carried away with the fun they’re having, became overconfident in their ability to interact with a professional comedian. Bad news for them, good news for the rest of us. 

Those who gain Robertson’s favour still find themselves in a strange and unnerving situation. The game is dark and full of terrors. Radiation. Communism. Repetition. Theft from abstract concepts. That sort of thing. The bizarre nature of some of the choices as they are gradually revealed by gameplay is a great extra layer.

The Dark Room exists as a sort of companion-piece to Knightmare Live. It’s come from the other side of the world, but a shared love of a vital component of childhood has resulted in these two shows. Both are great fun, nostalgic but also a fresh angle for comedy.

It’s unlikely to happen, but it’d be one hell of a tour if they joined forces.

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4 out of 5