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Edinburgh Fringe 2019

John Robertson: The Dark Room

John Robertson/Austin Talent

Genre: Children's Theatre, Comedic, Comedy, Family, Game Show

Venue: Gilded Balloon Night Club


Low Down

“The audience is trapped in a retro video game with a sadistic, end-of-level boss. Escape and win £1,000 or be brutally murdered by the rest of the crowd! Will you: A) Find the light switch? B) Go north? C) Abandon hope? Brutal, hilarious, innovative. This interactive comedy game show celebrates its 8th year at the Fringe, and it’s just as violent and stupid as any other eight-year-old.”


This perennial kids’, family and adult favourite is back at the Fringe and was a sell out at the show we attended (just as it was last year). John Robertson brings a retro video game to modern audiences and everyone is quickly on the uptake and more than happy to join in. The rules are simple in this interactive solo comedy show for 12s and over (though there wereyounger ones in the show we attended). I say “solo” but really the show couldn’t happen without the audience being a very active part of it.

We navigate our way, hilariously and unsuccessfully through an adventure game; the premise: we are in a dark room, and how are we going to get out? Children volunteer to make the decisions and various consequences ensue, on most occasions death is the dramatic and funny outcome.

The game is projected on a large screen behind the performer, and our witty, loud, scary-friendly host guides us through. He is manic and warningly charming, we are the safe hands of this dangerous man. We have 45 minutes to solve the game and get out, a collective endeavour, with some madcap humour and kooky prizes accompanying our collective incompetence and frustrating cluelessness and seeming amnesia along the way.

The multi-talented John Robertson has created two versions of the show – a family-friendly late afternoon version, and one for adults in the later evening. We went to the family-friendly version which has kids and adults whooping with delight and ducking for cover. I will say no more on that.

What makes the comedy work so well is the combination of a clear and simple narrative right from the start, combined with Robertson’s ability to handle and even humiliate the crowd and the happily volunteering kids without being genuinely cruel or nasty. We all merrily suspend our disbelief and his many put-downs and one liners are all rooted in sharp, well observed comedy about the wiles of children and parents. It’s as much a comedy of family life as an interactive game.

The show becomes a shared experience, drawing upon Dahl-esque dark humour, and breaking the rules of politeness and supposed respect. Because this is an assumed collaboration with the audience, all that rough and tumble becomes the gem of the thing. No one wanted it to end, and it ended a bit too suddenly for me. It needed a few more minutes “debrief” in character before we met our host out of character.

This Is still an excellent, high octane, voice-box-blowing performance. It is rooted in character acting, comedy and game show hosting. Its magic is in the spectacle of how our host can hold the space for nearly an hour and have us all willingly eating out of his hand. We are in a dark room, and we only want to get out a bit, just in case the delight lasts longer … in the dark.