Room – Peter Malicki locks us all up and asks the hard questions. (Sydney Fringe Festival)

Throughout the performance of Room you will hear several films referenced.  Cube, Saw, and The Matrix are some of them.  All these films deal in some way with our abilities to observe ourselves within a stylised reality that has been created for us. They are each about the discovery that what we thought about our world and ourselves, is not so, and how we cope with that knowledge.

This is the basic premise of Room, a little piece of lovely theatre that will leave you guessing and asking questions long after it’s over. That is its advertised promise and it delivers nicely. Peter Malicki runs the Short and Sweet festival here in Sydney and has been writing successful short plays for a while, so with his, his first fill length feature, we have someone with enough experience to carry off a very interesting two-hour show.

Matt, Abby, Judy, Dave and Sandra wake up to find they are locked in a room together.  None of them know how they got there and none of them know each other, with the exception of Abby knowing Matt because Matt is an internet celebrity. Immediately they make references to films, social media and reality television shows which is the only reference they have for what could possibly be happening to them. Soon they are horrified to find they are being fed water and food which implies they will be held for a long time.  Having no idea what to do and how to pass the time, they resort to play acting certain scenarios from life in order to keep themselves “sane”.  This, they decide is how the surviving prisoners of the Nazis were able to survive the prison camps.

And this is where the questions really begin. What is life other than all of us being cooped up in a small space acting out futile ambitions that ultimately mean nothing? In this way, the film reminded me a lot of Sartre’s No Exit.  The characters, each from very different walks of life, have to learn to co-exist so they don’t end up killing each other. These people are completely defined by their jobs, their relationship status and their connection with external media. They contextualize themselves and their circumstances by creative forces they’ve engaged in outside of the room. They’re only way of understanding their situation is through films, television and social media. All of them have problems relating to each other as each see themselves in a narrative context they feel should be immediately obvious to the others. Only by creating new narratives for each of them, that is formulating a new world together, are they able to transcend their circumstances within the room and their expectations for themselves forged by the outside world.

This for me was where the one problem with the play came to the fore. The characters were perhaps a little unconvincing in bringing who they were into the room with them.  I read in an interview that Malicki wanted to make a piece of theatre that was more like a film and I think that is a bit of a shame because there are things theatre can do that film can’t do nearly so well and characterisation can be one of them.

In any case, this complaint is a minor one for me, because by the time we reach the second act the story is rocketing along because suspense and narrative take over and the premise starts to undergo the same changes that are inevitably happening to the characters.  I wont go into narrative detail here because of spoilers, but the play makes a dramatic departure from the first half and begins its explorations into the world we live in and how it defines us. If the first half of the play is about who we are, the second half is about who we can be under certain circumstances. In the second half Malicki succeeds in making a play that is very much like a film. Its fast and thrilling but it has all the exciting subtexts and intellectual development you expect from theatre. Like a mantra the characters keep saying they need creativity in order to survive. But the question at the end is, how much creativity is being applied here?  And who is being more creative than the others?

This is a very accessible piece of theatre that is bound to attract large audiences. Get along to it if you can.  You’ll have a great time, find yourself thinking about the play for days and chatting about its premise for hours after.

Room goes for 120 minutes and is on at the Italian Forum Theatre.

You can buy tickets here.

Sat 15 Sep, 9:00 PM
Sun 16 Sep, 3:00 PM
Wed 19 Sep, 9:00 PM
Thu 20 Sep, 6:30 PM
Thu 27 Sep, 6:00 PM
Fri 28 Sep, 9:00 PM
Sat 29 Sep, 6:00 PM