Phoenix, Cavendish Square, 6 July 2017
Yes! I have finally arrived as a comedy reviewer, in that I was actually offered free tickets to a gig. Albeit I had to turn up and pretend to be someone else, but still, I’m on my way.
The freeness of the gig was partly what got me there, because from the billing I was convinced that The Dark Room was Not My Sort Of Thing. For a start, the only descriptions I saw online were heavy with mentions of horror, death and fear, and my mental health is currently so precarious that an emotional dog meme is enough to send me into an existential crisis. My general practice is not to research shows online before I see them, as I prefer to go with an open mind, but verbal feedback from people who’d seen the show described it as ‘very dark’ which at least adheres to the description, I suppose.
As one might glean from the title, we were ushered in and seated in a dark room, which for the purposes of this show was the basement room of the Phoenix which provided just the right level of gloom. The only things I could vaguely make out were a screen up ahead, and a trestle table of assorted rammel, including a pineapple, a fur coat and a bathmat.
After a few minutes of tense anticipation (this isn’t the sort of show where you have a chirpy compere warming you up) on came Robertson, his bleached hair swept back, and his terrifyingly spiked collar bedecked with strips of neon. I can only describe him as a modern-day Riff-Raff, and his delivery is also pretty O’Brien-esque. In fact, the whole show bore a lot in common with the Rocky Horror show, from the audience call-and response to the in-jokes between devoted attendees.
And it quickly became clear that The Dark Room was indeed a cult phenomenon. At least half of the audience had been before and quite a few sported the mark of the true geek: the merch t-shirt. But even as a newbie it was easy to join in and me and my party of three mates (who were all new to the show) quickly picked up on where to join in.
Billed as ‘the world’s only live-action video game‘ the concept is pretty simple. Each round of the game begins with the same premise: you awake to find yourself in a dark room, and you have four options. Which one you choose will determine the course of the adventure, and Robertson promises the winner a prize of £1000. Losers, sadly, are killed off, to gleeful shrieks from the audience of ‘YA DIE, YA DIE, YA DIE!!!’
If this sounds intimidating, it’s not. No one is dragged up on stage, and even Robertson’s crowdwork is archly camp rather than insulting – when myself and blue-haired lady got picked to play, he described us as ‘the two ladies with coloured hair who have not yet given up all hope of joy in the world’. Participants are invited to choose options from their seats, which keeps the game moving nice and quickly. Player after player meets their grim fate, but they don’t leave empty handed (I came home clutching the rather fetching bath mat).
Five minutes into the show, I was glad I came. Ten minutes in, I decided that this was just what I needed in my life. And by the end of the show, I’d decided that if we all had a bit more of this in our lives we wouldn’t have voted Brexit. In short, The Dark Room is what the world needs, it’s an hour of pure, unalloyed joy, camp, and silliness. It’s definitely going on my Edinburgh spreadsheet.
Speaking of which, Robertson is also doing two other Edinburgh shows: a kids version of the Dark Room, which I reckon will be no less hilarious, and his stand up show Dominant, which I’m intrigued to see. Robertson is a self-confessed sadist, and as a fellow member of the kink community I can’t wait to see how he works a BDSM-themed stand-up show.
Spoiler alert: sadly no one won the £1000. Maybe next time.