John Robertson – The Dark Room: Symphony of a Floating Head (Underbelly Cowgate, 6-30 Aug : 20.40 : 1hr)

“Oddly enjoyable”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

I’m a child of the 80s, and I’ll admit I had never heard of cult video game A Dark Room before I went along to this show. However, that didn’t really matter as after 10 odd minutes of adjusting to the madness and theatrical persona of host John Robertson I was able to follow along and feel just as involved as those to whom it was clearly a very important part of their growing up. By the end of the show, I was even able to recite the well-known lines of the script along with everyone else and feel like I had joined some sort of secret club.

The premise is very simple: audience members are invited/chosen to play a multiple choice video game where you select what you want to happen next in the story in order to complete the mission and stay alive. The twist is that you’re in a room full of people watching your every move, with commentary from a man on stage dressed as if he’s from another planet.

That may sound terrifying for some, but it’s all held together by the hugely charismatic Robertson (think Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Picture Show), whose energy and passion for the game set an atmosphere that has fun at its heart. Leave those inhibitions at the door.

Somewhat thankfully, being very green to what was going on, I wasn’t selected as a contestant in the game. However, by a couple of rounds I would have felt able to partake without feeling like a complete prat. While there was a small sense of public humiliation for those taking the wrong path, the more overwhelming sensation was one of support, from both the crowd and Robertson as host. After all, he’s there to entertain and help the audience have fun, not to make people’s lives a misery.

While the characterisation and delivery of the “show” were very amusing, the selection of prizes available for those who attempted the mission gave additional cause for giggles. A semi-inflated seal, a small stone and a second-hand baby’s dummy were a selection of what was on offer during our performance. Sometimes, only completely naff will do, anything else would have seemed incongruent to the overall setup.

I can safely say, in all my years, I’ve never been to a show quite like this one, and I’m very glad I didn’t run for the hills after the first couple of minutes. If a friend invites you along, definitely take them up on it. While for the gaming geeks it may be the best thing they ever experience, for the average punter it’s still an oddly enjoyable hour.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 13 August)