★★★ | Room, Theatre Royal Stratford East, London

Theatre review of Room at Theatre Royal Stratford East

The story of a mother and son held captive in a room was so beautifully and emotionally told in last year’s film Room. There is now a stage adaptation of that Oscar-winning film playing at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Emma Donoghue, who wrote the book in which the film was based on, also wrote the stage adaptation, and it’s an interesting one. The stage show 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, in case you missed the film, 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 also does get in the way of the very dramatic story unfolding on stage.

Without giving too much away, and as mentioned above, 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 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 through the eyes of a child. The cast does 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.

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Room plays at Royal Theatre Stratford East until the 3rd June 2017. Other dates include:

Dundee Rep
13 June – 17 June 2017
01382 223530
www.dundeerep.co.uk

Abbey Theatre, Dublin
24 June – 22 July 2017
+353 (0) 1 87 87 222
www.abbeytheatre.ie