Theatre Royal, Stratford East, 3rd June 2017
dir. Cora Bissett
I read 'Room' in one, harrowing sitting in late 2016, and then immediately sought out and watched the film. It was a story that profoundly affected me and, in particular, Donoghue's use of a five year old boy, Jack, as the narrator made the novel even more harrowing than it might otherwise have been. The novel was sparked by the case of Josef Fritzl, and tracks Ma and Jack's life in a small, converted shed in the back garden of Ma's captor, Old Nick. I was unsure as to how it would translate to the stage, but with Emma Donoghue driving the adaptation I knew it was in good hands.
As it happens, the play was spellbinding and heartbreaking in equal measure: much better than the film, and on a par with the novel itself.
The staging and music were brilliant. In particular, the staging was stunning, as Jack's fears were projected in childish drawings on the walls of 'Room.' The use of a rotating set also afforded the audience glimpses of 'Room' from a different perspective, for example from Jack's time spent in Wardrobe at night.
There were moments when, perhaps, the music didn't fit with perfect elegance, but largely it added a great deal to the performance. The underscoring bled beautifully into the songs, and it was an interesting and novel way to introduce Ma's own internal monologue. So good was the music, in fact, that I am sure there would be demand from audiences for the release of a live cast recording.
The performances were completely compelling, and in particular Witney White's performance as Ma was entirely captivating. White's portrayal of Ma was visceral and captured the heart wrenching pain experienced by the character. Her voice in the songs was incredible, too: shot through with anguish and passion in parts, and beautifully tender and soft in others. A true talent.
Young Jack was played by a rotation of three young actors, and in my performance the part was played ably by eight year old Darmani Eboji who added a tenderness and innocence to this difficult story, as well as moments of humour in his life with 'Ma'.
Donoghue has skirted the difficulty of portraying the internal monologue and narration of Jack deftly and creatively on stage. White and Eboji were joined throughout by 'Big Jack', played by Fela Lufadeju, who provided the thoughts and feelings of 'Young Jack' and adding a wonderful balance of the comedic thoughts of a five year old boy along with his heartbreaking realisations about the world around him. His performance was warm and full of heart, and integrated seamlessly with the performances of White, Eboji and the supporting cast. Through Lufadeju's performance, Donoghue's fascinating narrative was really able to really shine.
'Room' was the kind of performance that will stick with me for a long, long time. Whilst 'Room' has now closed at Stratford East, it will move in the coming weeks first to the Dundee Rep from 13th to 17th June (tickets here), and then to Abbey Theatre, Dublin, from 24th June to 22nd July (tickets here). See it if you can: you will not be disappointed.