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The Dark Room

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

‘You awake to find yourself in dark room.’ One visit to John Robertson’s sinister comedy gameshow, and these words will haunt your dreams. If Franz Kafka was to write a comedy show, this would be it.

Last year, the Australian comic had the ingenious idea of turning the primitive text-based computer adventure games of his youth into a YouTube quest; his unforgiving, menacing approach mirroring the brutally inflexible logic of early computers and the sadistically pedantic mind of their programmers.

The simple game – where the player is given up to four options at every turn to try to escape the diabolically difficult cell, where death is never more than one false click away,  proved an online hit, although it didn’t seem an obvious candidate for conversion to a live show.

Yet it works brilliantly well, with audiences so keen to defeat the fiendish puzzle that Robertson does a fair amount of repeat business. The show, which premiered on the free festival last year before this transfer to the Underbelly, certainly has all the makings of a cult.

Every performance is different because of the choices those thrown into the Dark Room make, and also because of Robertson’s quick improvisation in dealing with them. He certainly looks the part of the demonic, unyielding, impatient gamesmaster, with wild hair and Gothic get-up – backed with a booming baritone and dramatic diction that’s perfectly sinister and domineering. He certainly needs all that evil gravitas to keep some of tonight’s attention-seekingly cocky players in check.

There is an element of repetition, as each sap has to retrace the steps of his forebears to a certain extent, but Robertson turns this into a positive, making catchphrases of some of the choices and feigning exasperation at the stupidity of the challengers. But it’s also joyous when a new part of the game opens up, if you can figure out how. More likely you’ll die another arbitrary death.

Amusing stand-up about the games industry opens up the hour, and Robertson’s got a couple of inventively witty set pieces as part of the business that needs to be done. But that’s by-the-by, all we really want to do is defeat the game and not be told, once again: ‘You awake to find yourself in dark room.’

Review date: 11 Aug 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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