London Ontario’s Grand Theatre
This ROOM bravely tackles traumatic issues with sensitivity and sincerity.
Be aware this North American premiere of Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’, which transfers to Toronto’s Mirvish Theatres in April, might trigger some individuals who have suffered psychological trauma. Placards found throughout the Grand Lobby and website guide those who may experience any significant reaction to call for assistance.
With this warning, however, please, please don’t allow this to stop anyone from seeing such emotionally moving performances. Theatre lovers want to get back to experience these feelings.
At least I know I do.
On my bookshelf, I’ve got a copy of ‘Room’, and still, it sits there. I remember watching the film several years ago and wanting to read the book.
Seeing this unique adaptation has now made me want to pull it from the shelf and start when I get home.
Kidnapped as a teenage girl, Ma (Alexis Gordon) has been locked inside a purpose-built room in her captor’s garden for seven years. Her five-year-old son, Jack (played at this performance by Lucien Duncan-Reid) has no concept of the world outside what he calls ‘Room’ and happily exists being there with the help of Ma, her games, and his vivid imagination where Rug, TV, and Wardrobe are his only friends.
Ma makes an intense decision for her and her son to escape and face their biggest challenge to date: to learn to exist and be outside Room.
Entering the Spriet auditorium to take a good look at the stage was eerie, but it works soundly in this case. There was an unsettling buzzing and humming noise (it sounded like fluorescent ceiling lighting tubing). Lily Arnold’s set design effectively captured a claustrophobic visual look in the first act. The circular turning floor perfectly allows for excellent vantage points in Act One and functions extremely well with the prodigious turn of events in Act Two.
Projection Designer Andrzej Goulding black silhouetted scrim with child drawings on stage right and stage left remind me what we are about to see comes from a child’s perspective. A large rectangular box visually looks down on the room where we can see the movement of the actors. Above the rectangular box is a drawing of what I thought was a child’s drawing of a window. We learn later it represents the skylight.
When the story opens, that sickening claustrophobic tone of this purpose-built becomes intensely magnified. There is a toilet downstage left. A bathtub is located behind the toilet with the sink behind it. The wardrobe closet in which the young Jack sometimes sleeps or hides out is upstage far left. Downstage right is Ma’s bed (and sometimes Jack will climb in with her). A large rug is found down centre stage with the kitchen table just behind. There are cupboards behind and a bolted door with keypad up right serving as the entrance to the Room.
Bonnie Beecher and John Gzowski’s Lighting and Sound Design fittingly and efficiently capture their respective tasks. Beecher’s stylized silhouettes continuously assist in building tension within the moment. Gzowski’s smart sound selections work extremely well, especially at pivotal dramatic highlights.
A marvelous choice was made to incorporate music and song, so a huge credit of acknowledgment extended to Kathryn Joseph, Songwriter and Lyricist. I gleaned so much from listening to the lyrics and hearing the music surrounding the plot action on stage. Ms. Gordon’s vocal range soars in height in her song at the end of Act One and what has just occurred plot-wise made me gasp. It’s made clear in the program that ‘Room’ is not a musical by any means. The only slight quibble I did have was Gavin Whitworth’s music direction sometimes overpowered the singers and I couldn’t clearly hear some of the lyrics from where I sat in the balcony.
I remember seeing the film ‘Room’ several years ago and was quite taken with the young Jacob Tremblay as Jack. In filmmaking, the action can be stopped for whatever reason. The same does not apply to live theatre so when I heard a stage production was in the works, I wondered what child actor could even attempt to maintain the stamina necessary for the role.
And in an excellent decision creatively made, there is the young Jack and SuperJack, the elder, who can comment and deliver lengthy monologues. At this performance, an up-and-coming Lucien Duncan-Reid as Jack precociously took control of my heartstrings at key moments. As SuperJack, Brandon Michael Arrington suitably and bravely complements the youthful energy and physicality of the young Duncan-Reid in juxtaposition. In Act Two Arrington breaks the fourth wall twice momentarily and comes downstage to speak to the audience, and the visual effect is remarkable. The final tableau in Act Two with him, Duncan-Reid, and Alexis Gordon remains embedded in my mind even as I write this article the next day.
Alexis Gordon is triumphant as Ma.
Her range and display of emotional intensity remain consistently believable and naturalistic throughout. Never once did she venture over the top, not once, and all the while remaining in complete control of her being present in the moment. Wonderful.
Supporting characters mirror optimally the highly charged fervency. Ashley Wright’s Old Nick is a greasy, sleazy slimeball. Tracey Ferencz and Stewart Arnott as Grandma and Grandpa poignantly reveal how their lives have also been terrifying changed on account of these horrific events of the last seven years. Shannon Taylor as the Interviewer and Popcorn Server strongly yet garishly shows the insensitivity of people who have never fully understood the devastating effects of trauma.
Final Comments: Director Cora Bissett wrote in her Director’s Note of the Programme how she has returned to looking at the story through a whole new lens. She has changed as we all have over the last two years. Bissett writes about surviving through enormous uncertainty, holding onto the tiniest hope in the darkest of places, and finding strength in love even when one feels there is nothing left to give. Her enlightening vision for this ‘Room’ honourably does justice to Donoghue’s unforgettable story.
ROOM is unforgettable. It is a stirring tale of the immeasurable resiliency of those who have suffered psychological trauma.
Running time: approximately two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
‘Room’ runs to March 19 at London, Ontario’s Grand Theatre to March 19 on the Spriet Stage, 471 Richmond Street. To purchase tickets, visit www.grandtheatre.com or call the Box Office (519) 672-8800. It then opens at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre from April 5 – May 8, 2022.
GRAND THEATRE, COVENT GARDEN PRODUCTIONS AND MIRVISH PRODUCTIONS present ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue
Adapted for the Stage by Emma Donoghue
Songs by Cora Bissett and Kathryn Joseph
Directed by Cora Bissett
Associate Director: Megan Watson
Movement Coach: Linda Garneau
Set and Costume Designer: Lily Arnold
Projection Designer: Andrzej Goulding
Lighting Designer: Bonnie Beecher
Sound Designer: John Gzowski
Music Director: Gavin Whitworth
Stage Manager: Suzanne McArthur
Fight and Intimacy Director: Siobhan Richardson
Actors: Stewart Arnott, Brandon Michael Arrington, Lucien Duncan-Reid, Isaac Chan, Tracey Ferencz, Alexis Gordon, Shannon Taylor, Ashely Wright