At points painfully relatable, but always unsettlingly relevant.
‘The Destroyed Room’ intelligently discusses the way we view events in the age of the internet. A tense, compact piece, it poses questions to the audience about the way they view the world, and about the way an audience views theatre itself. Three actors in conversation navigate a range of topics, from global warming to ISIS.
The main effect of the show lies in its hybridisation of theatre and television. The stage is set like a modern front room; there are a few chairs, a sofa, a bookshelf, bottles of wine set on the side. In a cross between a Holiday Inn and a late night talk show, the details are impersonal, but carefully arranged. Immediately above the stage hangs a projector screen showing a live view of the stage, filmed throughout the piece by two cameramen. Everything is set for what appears to be a very public conversation.
One of two cameramen gives a brief lecture on the origin of the title, taken from Jeff Wall’s 1978 photograph of the same name. Vanishing Point want to make the research they have done clear, and what journey the piece has gone on in order to bring it to the stage. This research shows in the performance. It is a wonderfully inspired piece, with a few strong technical surprises tying and supporting the themes of the dialogue.
For a show that is experimental, it still remains within many of the boundaries of regular stagecraft. As a result, it can feel like the show is pulling in two directions. The first section of the show is improvised; a fresh introduction emerges each night from a question known only by the one actor which asks it. As a means of introduction, this is wonderful and engaging. The actors react with some real life, to each other and the audience. At some point the script kicks in and there is a shift. An atypical boozy front room drama develops, as the actors forget about the audience and withdraw into their conversation.
Each of the performers does a marvellous job of bringing a depth of character to the piece. The difficulty is that the scripted section tackles the issues wonderfully, but loses the energy and vibrancy of the improvisation, whilst the improvised section becomes too much of a show to then proceed into the issues to be tackled later.
Part of what is interesting about the show is that when the actors have taken to the stage, the audience has to make a decision how to watch them; whether to watch an actor as they sit there in the flesh, or through the millisecond delay of a screen. This allowed staging that would otherwise exclude the audience; for instance the cameramen moving in until they shielded the actors and replaced our view with their own.
Interestingly it focuses on a slightly older generation than we might typically expect for a conversation based around living through screens. But by looking through the lens of middle age, engaging heavily with our own societal view of what it means to be an adult, it illuminates a greater dimension of feelings around what constitutes responsibility.
Altogether, Matthew Lenton and the rest of the team at Vanishing Point have put together a startling drama out of familiar pieces. Bound to leave a lasting imprint, this is definitely one to be seen. ‘The Destroyed Room’ ran at the Traverse Theatre from the 9th to the 12th of March, and is touring to London, performing at the Battersea Arts Centre from the 27th of April to the 14th of May with more dates to be announced.
Images credited to Mihaela Bodlovic.