By Laura Lynott
The stage adaption of the haunting yet charming movie and book, Room is a roller coaster ride of emotion for anyone lucky enough to catch this performance at the Abbey.
Inspired by incredibly difficult issues, including incest and imprisonment, it’s hard to believe how Emma O’Donoghue’s strikingly evocative book and the bitingly realistic film directed by Lenny Abrahamson, could work on stage.
But somehow Scottish director Cora Bissett has brought a fresh and dynamic third dimension to a powerful story of survival against all odds.
The Abbey Theatre has worked in conjunction with the Theatre Royal Stratford East in the UK to produce a world that sits between reality and nightmare, with the use of phenomenal stage creations, narration by an adult Jack to accompany the innocence of little Jack and emotional songs that strike to the core of the actors’ vulnerabilities in their roles.
Little Jack played by Taye Kassim Junaid-Evans, Harrison Wilding, or Darmani Eboji, injects a sublime innocence into this performance, as we come to realise a child will accept any circumstances they are born into, even a small room bereft of toys or freedom.
Witney White, who is as Ma, a tour-de-force of emotion, a towering strength, as she uses soulful and mournful songs to express the pain and struggle as she strives for a seemingly impossible freedom.
The most brutal, yet empowering part of the play is when Ma is being raped as little Jack listens in, unable to understand what’s unfolding other than a bed creaking.
White bursts into song, revealing to the audience her gut wrenching grief and misery, as she appeals through melody for survival for the sake of her baby. The emotional connection via song brought an incredible addition to this piece and left more than a few audience members moved.
Liam McKenna (Old Nick) provides a thoroughly vile and realistic addition and the sense of this man’s cruelty is portrayed perhaps better on stage than in the movie. We see his disdain for Ma and little Jack up close and the pain inflicted is so much more palpable when played out for a live audience.
Fela Lufadeju (Big Jack) holds so much of this performance together and reflects the inner workings of a child’s mind so well. And even in moments of sheer sorrow and forlorness when Ma tries to take her life, after escaping yet finding it so difficult to survive in a changed world, Lufadeju’s passionate and child-like performance bears witness to the true depletion of a child’s spirit.
For the first time little Jack, who’d made Room a fantasy world of happiness, has come undone and this a truly heartbreaking realisation.
Lily Arnold’s lit up and revolving room, accompanied by Andrzej Goulding’s video imagery, offers somewhat of an art instillation feel to the play and the experimental use of music, art and drama, merely adds to the dynamism and impressionism of the piece.
It is so very difficult to imagine the horrors of such a world and no one would ever dare try but somehow Room at the Abbey, brings the monster to the floor and breaks down all shame and loss with a stellar cast and powerful song and when stitched together, there are moments of humour and hope.
Room may not be to everyone’s tastes but applause should be given to Neil Murray and Graham McLaren, for bringing such a visionary and compelling piece of work to the Dublin stage. More please!
Room runs until July 22. For tickets log onto the Abbey Theatre, Dublin website here.