Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh
Fancy watching a genuine phenomenon? One that’s built around a love of those text-based 80s video games where you are invited to choose various options in the hope of winning? Well, essentially that’s what The Dark Room is all about. There’s a £1000 prize on offer… and before you say something like ‘yeah, that’s not going to happen,’ let me assure you that host John Robertson told me that the prize has been won twice (on two consecutive nights) in 2015. So chew on that.
Let me set the scene for you. You’re in a damp, rather smelly room on Cowgate. Images flicker up on a rumpled screen. Then in strides Robertson, dressed in a manner that makes you think he must have loved Mad Max: Fury Road. (Well, he is Australian.) He climbs onto the stage and quickly takes control of the sizeable crowd. Robertson is very funny, slick, sharp-tongued and a bit of a bully. He immediately chooses his first contestant which as luck would have it, is me. He gives me the name Darren (he gives everyone this name) and I start haplessly choosing options while Robertson hurls abuse at me for everything I do. Inevitably, I am dead after just a few goes and I am assured that this is the fastest round ever played on the Fringe (i.e. I’m completely useless) He gives me a prize (a plastic starfish) and promptly moves on to other victims.
It’s fast, frenetic. One contestant has clearly had way too much to drink and starts to get lippy, but Robertson deals with him expertly, turning the man’s churlishness back on himself. A thirteen year old girl has a go and Robertson walks an expertly balanced tightrope between what’s acceptable in such a situation and what clearly isn’t. Apparently the game gets a lot of repeat custom as punters come back, having decided that next time they’ll surely make the right choices.
I’ll be honest, we really didn’t think this one would be for us… neither of us have played those text-based games or have the first idea of strategy, but it hardly matters. This is enjoyable stuff, often laugh-out-loud funny and it’s not long before you’ve memorised Robertson’s repeated lines and are shouting along with him. ‘You die, you die, you DIE!’