Birdy first met John Robertson over 10 years ago, when he was doing The Dark Room at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Fast forward to present day, and he’s… still doing The Dark Room at the Fringe, to an even more rip-roaring success than ever before, it seems.
SOLD OUT, SOLD OUT, SOLD OUT PERFORMANCES!!!
Full disclosure; John Robertson is someone whose shows I’ve seen at least a couple times now; we’re also connected on Facebook, and I’ve kind of half followed what he’s been up to over the years. Kind of.
I’m still regretting not asking him what his meeting at the BBC a while back was all about, but what happened in my head was that I could easily have seen his Dark Room character as the next Doctor Who. Maybe I’d have watched it then.
However, this is the first year I’ve gone back to The Dark Room in many years (apparently I’ve seen The White Room, too, which John kindly reminded me I had opinions on at the time – I vaguely remembered being traumatised after his prompt).
And bloody hell has it evolved!
I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise, and of course it’d have to, otherwise too many people would end up figuring it out and he’d be short of around £1000 every night.
By chance, I caught up with John at the start of Fringe, where he kindly agreed to record this short clip (right) for the Edinburgh Reviews TikTok.
The format of The Dark Room, for all of you future Darrens who haven’t a clue what to expect, is that anyone in the audience gets a chance to play the real live-action game of The Dark Room, based on the text adventures you used to get in the ’80s. I remember those adventures.
Anyone who does play the game, is immediately referred to – perhaps lovingly, at this point, although I’m sure it really doesn’t feel like it to anyone playing – as Darren.
Literally anyone in the audience has a chance to play, and it’s fair to say that many Darrens will try and fail during the show – many of them killed off in ridiculous, brutal and often hilarious ways, all the while John is shouting ‘YA DIE, YA DIE, YA DIEEEEEE!!!’.
The vibe is frantic, chaotic energy throughout, with lots of laughs and although the show is brutal at times, it’s never full-on mean with it. It’s clearly John’s show, though – his rules, and he can do whatever the hell he likes. If someone is being a twat, he’ll just move onto the next willing participant.
Okay, so we do get eased in a bit to The Dark Room. John started asking the audience which decades they were born in. No-one was born in the ’40s, one man was born in the ’50s, no-one in the ’60s, a few in the ’70s, and most of us (me included) were ’80s kids.
There were almost as many born in the ’90s as the ’80s, with John joking that back in the day, he’d have made fun of those people for being young. Some were born in the ’00s.
Then we get onto the first Darren; John calls for someone completely inexperienced in The Dark Room, and we find out he is apparently 15 years of age – which was probably the best start we could have asked for, and John found particularly hilarious.
Time to get into it!
The show itself
The show starts off with the original version of The Dark Room, and 15-year-old schoolboy Darren basically didn’t know what hit him when he was all too soon, out of the game.
We then moved onto to civil servant Darren, biologist Darren, train (or ‘leaf on the tracks’) Darren, and theatre school Darren – whose friend stressed him out (unfortunately we got to learn why).
We also had different, more updated rounds of The Dark Room, including DLC content The Dark Lighthouse – and a tortilla round, where I got tortillas flung in my general direction.
I was fairly sure John’s £1000 was safe last night, but everyone who participated still got a prize. Those prizes included a flamboyant potato (a pineapple), a box where doughnuts once resided, an absence of sausages, and disks three and four of season five of Dexter.
We were also joined by comedian Mary O’Connell (who has her own show at the Guilded Balloon) and her boyfriend, who sat in the middle of the stage. Mary was later crowdsurfed to the top of the audience, which was not something I saw coming, if I’m honest, but good on her!
Once all the Darrens were beaten into submission, it became clear that the biggest winner of the night was, in fact, John, who always seems to be having the time of his life revelling in his own hilariously cruel creation.
But the audience seemed to enjoy it, too, and by the end of the night, everyone knew their name was Darren, and were all happily chanting ‘YOU DIE, YOU DIE, YOU DIE!!!’. Best show.
Thoroughly entertaining as always, it’s clear to see why The Dark Room is such a clear winner and still going strong for Fringe 2023. In fact, the shows keep selling out! I was lucky to be able to get a press ticket, and I had a great time especially watching the younger Darrens take on the game.
As I was leaving, the main line I heard uttered from another audience member was: “Are you actually eating that tortilla?”
If you can manage to get hold of a ticket, I highly recommend you do, as this show is definitely one of my must-sees this year. Thanks for being you, John!
A review of The Dark Room