The Dark Room for Kids

Fri 4th – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Simona Ivicic

at 11:48 on 17th Aug 2017

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Walking into the Community Project, my reviewing partner and I had no idea what to expect. Immediately we were faced with bright red lights, overwhelmingly loud grunge music and a flashing screen that read ‘HEY KIDS! YOU’RE ABOUT TO DIE!’ We both looked at each other and wondered what on earth was happening and how was this appropriate for children. Soon after, a very energetic and aggressively dynamic John Robertson materialised and all became clear. Like a ringmaster, he had us in the palm of his hand and the uproar of children laughing and clapping was evidence enough that we were in for a treat. It quickly became evident that the host of this interactive adventure was hilariously strange and with his shoulder pads and corset set alight with different coloured lights, the show begins.

As if the promise of £1000 were we to complete this 80’s style live action video game, was not incentive enough, there was also an array of slightly more achievable - albeit terrible - prizes. This includes what Robertson creatively terms, a flamboyant potato, which was in reality a pineapple, and a deflated balloon with a hole in it, i.e. a plastic bag. This playfulness and spirited fun sets the tone for the rest of the show and the atmosphere becomes increasingly high-spirited.

Robertson is witty, engaging and outrageously funny but at times repetitive. This is excusable as with this sort of interactive game where the audience dictates the outcome, it is only natural that the game will go round in circles if the participant chooses what has previously gone before. Despite the fact that the jokes get repeated and the script becomes obvious, Robertson uses this to his advantage by collectively teaching us the lines to shout at the participant. This thoroughly engaging show is just as bonkers as it is exciting all the way through. As the title suggests the targeted demographic is children and his non-stop enthusiasm and bouncing around proves very stimulating for the younger audience, but personally this hour-long show became exhausting to watch.

Robertson is quick on his feet and is able to read his audience in order to interact with us in very personal ways. Whether it’s to poke fun at my bright red Ed Fringe Review jumper and notepad or to maintain a running joke about the toddler that decided to harass him on stage, his natural ability to adjust his behaviour to suit the audience is entertaining and a pleasure to watch.

But parents do be warned: Robertson’s slightly aggressive but charismatic teasing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and the show contains some swearing and a couple of naughty jokes here and there that hopefully your children will not understand. Nevertheless, this show is a great laugh and definitely worth a watch.

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Nina Attridge

at 12:22 on 17th Aug 2017

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In a show that gets you to violently yell ‘You Die!’ at an 8-year-old girl in a ‘My Little Pony’ t-shirt- what could go wrong? Calling this show high-energy would not do it justice, instead I’d argue in favour of high-violence, high-volume, and high number-of-parents-wanting-to-cover-their-kids’-ears. This is a show where everything going wrong only makes things funnier, where you despair at the stupidity of your comrades-in-play, and for 60 minutes your children can be transported to the most alien of planets- the 80s.

John Robertson knows how to be daring, rude and hilarious; knows where the line is and decidedly plonks a big toe over it anyway- hesitantly asking for the parents’ permission before doing so. He has a remarkable ability to make you feel stupid without being cutting. Like any good family show, there was a pinch of toilet jokes for the kids; and a heavy serving of dark humour for the adults. The table of prizes was a perfect and a hilariously inappropriate consolation for the fact that winning (escaping) seemed entirely out of reach. With that amount of hilarity in the room- we were all winners.

For every joke that went over the heads of the younger audience, the free pass Robertson gave them to aggressively yell profanities at a grown man kept them happy. This could perhaps be the only show that makes you want to wear the face of a long-haired, verging on middle-aged man; on a t-shirt- something that slots perfectly into video-game culture and allows all, gamer or not, to loudly release their inner geek. My personal inner fangirl has been released. Be prepared to embark on an expedition into the darkest depths of the retro with a room full of strangers, and be prepared to love it. This is for the adult who doesn’t want the harder original ‘Dark Room’ for adults, and the slightly more liberal-minded parent who likes to throw their children in the deep. Chances are- you will participate. Walking in as a reviewer with the feeling that you were not remotely safe from victimisation was an invigorating foreshadowing to the aggressive fun that followed. What was most impressive about the barmy events in a (surprise surprise) darkened room at The Community Project; was that nothing could be planned. Robertson depends entirely on the engagement and goodwill of a sometimes less-than clued in youthful audience, and yet makes every stumble and repeated joke work to his advantage. Each show would be unique to its audience.

This man is a master of the trade that he has created and monopolised: bringing the audience into a video game that you didn’t know you wanted to play.

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