Warning this review contains a spoiler!
An unusual set up, we are lead into the theatre to the scene of what looks like a small living room and are instantly told the influence of the production. Usually, we as an audience do our own research, look for the influences, read the blurb. Based on a photograph by Jeff Wall named The Destroyed Room, where he took influence for this from a painting from The Death of Sardanapaulus, we are told what our initial thoughts are – to question, to not yet understand, to be a voyeur. Introduction of ‘The Actors’, and being named by this label, we are invited to greet them and welcome them into the space, all the while looking down on them, into their scene.
This seemingly ‘normal’ living room is invaded by us watching but also by two cameras which switch back and forth to a large screen. There’s an element of a talk show – the actors beginning with what we are told is a question which none of them know is going to be asked, we the audience are slightly referred to and asked for a response, but soon this dissipates. This format reminds me very much of a production many years ago by Phil Ralph; an associate artist of Swansea’s Volcano Theatre Company called ‘Chat Room’ where audiences were invited into a discussion. However, The Destroyed Room pushes us away, makes us watch the chaos unfold. Despite being put into a false sense of the improvisation of the scripting, it is soon obvious how planned this is. But we cannot be angry at this – it is so well constructed and the actors make the characters so real and naturalistic that we forget our initial preconceptions.
Current political discussions are involved – the ideas of a lack of privacy with social media, terrorist videos and public production of these images with the use of up to date technology. We are put in a situation where we are vulnerable; where everyone at some point’s point of view would have been said. The awkwardness and uncomfortable nature as the discussion on the death of people in these tragic disasters begins to hit home to the character’s, showing how we see these images of current events on our televisions, social media spaces, the media and believe that it does not affect us but reality is that we are not so far away from its reality.
The consumption of wine by the character’s makes the situation more tense – alcohol fuelled, stereotypically our personalities are enhanced (and not always for the better) and emotions run high; the discussion becomes a debate; the debate becomes an argument where characters are emotionally hurt, where we feel for them and feel a slight pain of pain ourselves. While this intensifies, a low buzz that has been building from the beginning in the sound system gets louder, the sound of the sea increasing and the floor begins to flood with water, all while the opinions of the refugee crisis are argued – we are again watching this ensue and we are helpless to stopp such things. The once background white wallpaper shows the video of the refugees in the sea; all the feelings, the helplessness we feel and the intensity of the situation is forced on us. Water begins to pour through the wallpaper, destroying it and we get the sense of how we are never just watching events, we are always a part of it – as disconnected as we fool ourselves into being. This clever staging brings reality to the forefront, not just being brought to us through the brilliant wording.
Finishing with a CSI type character coming into the ruined room, analysing the space, we refer back to the productions original influences. What happened here? Why did it happen? What was the thought behind it?
Ultimately, we have our own opinions but we never truly know the answer to the questions no matter how hard we look, what we believe in the media.
The Destroyed Room is a wonderful piece of work conceived and directed by Matthew Lenton. Not just food for thought; an audience who are made to feel as if they are just watching the actions cannot help but leave the Battersea Arts Centre without feeling great emotion about our detrimental world.