Created, directed, and performed by James Thierrée, ROOM is the kind of theatre that creates a challenge for a reviewer. Not because it’s not good (it’s unbelievably good), but because it is so abstract and visceral that trying to sum up its qualities feels like a disservice.
When Thierrée appears on stage looking a little like Charlie Chaplin – if Charlie Chaplin was trained in contemporary dance – it’s no coincidence; he is Chaplin’s grandson and was raised in a circus family and began performing at the age of four. It’s not surprising considering his playful agility. Around him, deconstructed pieces of a set are rolled around the King’s Theatre stage while the other performers (all inordinately talented) float, dance, and march to and fro, each seeming to represent a different theatrical element – costume, music, makeup, props. Imagine Beckett set to music. The pieces of the eponymous room rarely sit still. This constant building and rebuilding of the stage is mesmerising and although the players flit, dance, and cavort in a routine which creates the appearance of frenetic chaos, it is clearly meticulously choreographed.
What ROOM seems to be doing, is transporting us into the mind of the auteur at work. It’s a dream world and everything on stage is a piece of his artistic imagination as he orchestrates and designs his latest masterpiece. Dancers sprout from completely unexpected places, like seeds of ideas, contorting themselves as Thierrée considers and refines them. This is a show about the chaos, violence, and messiness of creation and the innumerable changes that occur between inception and implementation – the search for a perfect incarnation of ethereal ideas.
At various points, Thierrée argues with a stage manager (sometimes in French, sometimes in a fabricated onomatopoeiac language) about specifics and details while the ‘ideas’ dance behind them. We also see other stages of the creative process – auditions, rehearsals, rewrites – as well as the inner process of doubt and imposter syndrome.
It’s truly amazing how the bustle on stage and the wild speed of the performers doesn’t ever lead to accidental collision but creates fascinating images – another visual metaphor of art in action. Similarly, the score is jazzy, unpredictable, and bombastic, providing a wild, consuming soundtrack for the cornucopia of happenings on stage.
Despite all of this introspection into the world of the artist, ROOM avoids becoming pretentious – there’s too much humour and fun for that. Thierrée even pauses to yell “It needs a narrative” and speaks directly to the audience, attempting to explain “what it all means” with hilarious results. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t really a perfect answer.
ROOM is a rare wonder of the senses and an absolute triumph. Outstanding.