Written by James Thiérrée. Sydney Festival. Roslyn Packer Theatre. 11-25 Jan, 2023.
The phrase you’re looking for is “What the fuck did I just watch?” but not said in a bad way, said with a mixture of awe and discombobulation and respect. Room, now inhabiting the Roslyn Packer Theatre as part of Sydney Festival, is a clash of absurdist humour, dance, music, acrobatics, theatre and cabaret… and it’s utterly brilliant.
There is an unloved 1998 ensemble film called Playing By Heart (stay with me here) and I instantly thought of one line of its dialogue as I walked out of Room. Angelina Jolie leans into Ryan Phillipe while on a date and says “talking about love is like dancing about architecture”, which is as good a description of Room as any, especially as the architecture does indeed dance.
James Thiérrée’s incredible concoction feels like an explosion of his creative subconscious. It’s something more akin to reading a particularly trippy X-Men comic than a piece of stagecraft. I was reminded of Mark Z. Danielewski’s creepy debut novel House of Leaves, and episodes of Doctor Who more than I was of any theatre piece I’d seen in the past.
Room is a space of endless potential, for art and for chaos, and we are shown both in abandon (though like all the best stage chaos it is intricately choreographed which makes it all the more breathtaking). Even Thiérrée wrestles aloud with what the show actually is about, trying to impose order where there is none. A commentary on the creative process, its random sparks of activity, its dreamlike logic and stressful/joyous journey.
Absurdist theatre can often feel impenetrable or frustratingly vague, but Room soars through these thoughts by being relentlessly entertaining – lavish costumes, a constantly morphing set, characters that appear and disappear in an instant. If Moulin Rouge: The Musical is a non-stop mix of hit songs, Room takes the same principle to every aspect of its performance – everything changes, everywhere all at once.
Easily one of the most electrifying theatre experiences I’ve had in a while (and as you can see from recent posts I’ve been seeing a lot of great theatre these last few months. I haven’t reviewed a dud in a really long time!) Room is an honest-to-goodness, must-see experience.
Leave a Reply