Theatre Review: The Destroyed Room at Battersea Arts Centre
The Destroyed Room veers with wine-fuelled abandon from satirical humour to tragic, gut-churning honesty. A brutal discussion of how much we can take, in a world of bad-news overload.
Taking inspiration from Jeff Wall’s famous photograph – itself inspired by Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanapalus – Vanishing Point examine the convergence of social attitudes towards refugees, the rise of terrorism and the ubiquity of social media, and ask the apparently simple question: to what extent has our capacity for empathy been replaced by antipathy and individualism.
Watching The Destroyed Room is like overhearing a captivating dinner conversation at a nearby table – the performers occasionally may occasionally break the fourth wall, but this is not an interactive experience. Instead, the audience is invited to observe, voyeuristically, as what begins as a sober, inoffensive discussion about the nature of happiness mutates – via a few bottles of wine – into an emotional, no-holds-barred argument about responsibility, the rights of the individual, the rise of ISIS, impossible choices and the futility of hope.
At its darkest – two characters admit to watching scenes of real life horror online, one finding something beautiful in a video of a man killed by a tsunami wave, another unable to look away from videos of terrorist torture and sadistic killing – The Destroyed Room focuses uncomfortably on the way that technology and social media has made voyeurs of us all, and has facilitated an omnipresent torrent of atrocity porn.
That’s not to say that there aren’t laughs to be had – the first thirty minutes are a Mike Leigh-esque semi-improvised comedy of gentle ribbing, satirical insights, and laugh-out-loud one-liners. The subsequent shift in tone is handled exquisitely – we’ve all been there, in those conversations that start as a lighthearted chitchat yet slide (often with the help of a few glasses of Merlot), inexorably towards something darker and less comfortable.
There’s an inescapable sense of anticlimax when the discussion fizzles to a close – notwithstanding some impressive if slightly distracting stage effects – and, having ratcheted up the tension, climaxes with a whimper rather than a bang. It would be too much to expect for The Destroyed Room to provide us with all of the answers, but as a theatrical event, the performance felt short of a sense of closure. That said, this is not a wham bam stage blockbuster – rather, a show which burrows into your mind and works away for hours after the lights go dark.