Where: Theatre Royal Stratford East
Who: Stage show based on last year’s hit film Room
When: Now playing up until June 3, 2017
Why: Beautifully acted and superbly told
A new play based on an Oscar-winning film has just opened at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Room tells the story of a mother and son held captive in a room which was so beautifully and emotionally told in last year’s film ‘Room.’
The stage show, also written by the film’s writer Emma Donoghue, mimics the plot of the movie, however, more elements are added to it. First off, there’s a narrator who speaks out loud the thoughts of 5-year old Jake (ably played by Harrison Wilding on the night I saw it); it’s Jack’s perspective this show is told from (as in the book); and surprisingly the show is also told via songs – effective at times but a bit inappropriate at other times.
Room is about a woman and her son who are being held hostage by a man simply known as Old Nick (Liam McKenna). The mother, Ma (excellently played by Witney White), has been imprisoned by him for seven years. Ma and Jack are unable to leave the room, locked in by the man who is Jack’s father who takes his liberties with Ma whenever he wants. And Ma has to be ever so grateful when he brings her and Jack the staples and necessities they need to live on. But it’s Jack who has adapted to living in the room – it’s all he knows. He also knows to hide in the wardrobe when Old Nick comes to visit – it’s these time that the show takes, to great effect, a dark and eerie tone. It’s complemented by the set – a room in the middle of the stage – that cleverly swings around when Nick is ‘visiting’ – so we see Jack’s frightened viewpoint from the wardrobe – which is also his bed – it’s expertly thought out. Jack’s thoughts come via the narration by Fela Lufadeju – Big Jack – who is Little Jacks’ voice and his conscience. It’s narration that at times is cute and funny and at times very serious, but it’s also does get in the way of the very dramatic story unfolding on stage.
The rest of story plays out in similar parallel with the movie, with the second half taking place in a home (as opposed to a room), where Ma and Jack have to adjust to life outside the room. It’s with the help of Ma’s mother (a good performance by Lucy Tregar) that shifts the second half into another gear, a bit slower and less intense than the first, but dramatic nonetheless.
Room has elements of it that work and don’t work. Room’s premise is very theatrical, with the whole story being told inside four walls, which this production excellently shows. In the first room there are the items that Jack has named (plant, TV, etc..), then there’s a hospital room, and then on to Grandma’s house, it’s a set superbly designed by Lily Arnold. And there is also excellent use of lighting and visuals on the walls that are characters and images seen from the eyes of a child. The cast do a very good job and it’s a helluva emotional show to be performing seven times a week (three young actors take turns playing the role of Jack). But the use of Big Jack is a device that doesn’t quite work, and some of the songs (music by Kathryn Joseph) in the second half just don’t quite work with the dark theme of the show. Nonetheless, if you loved the movie and read the book, then this is must see theatre, and only it’s playing until June 3rd.