BWW Review: ROOMS, Barbican Centre
The Barbican Centre's Silk Street Theatre has been transformed to host Enda Walsh's third piece in his programme. The stage becomes a dark universe where five huge white cubes encapsulate different rooms. By stepping into them, audiences are transported in perfectly curated personal spaces.
Fluctuating between art installation and theatre, Rooms is undefined by its constraints, with Walsh's bringing proof of life found in the emptiness of the set-ups. The small groups are invited to explore the rooms briefly before recordings of their occupants (or ex occupants) start playing.
Donal O'Kelly speaks of a difficult office romance in Office 33A; Charlie Murphy is a girl who ran away from her home at six years old in A Girl's Bedroom; Eileen Walsh's story is infused with abuse and horror in Kitchen; Bathroom sees Paul Reid putting the pieces of his memory together; and Niall Buggy is in a hotel, waiting for his demise in Room 303.
The narrations are lyrical and suggestive, the actors' soliloquies permeate the walls with their experiences and feelings to fill in the gaps between props and audience. When the voices are reduced to a whisper and the lights are turned down low, they lull the crowds to an often bittersweet position to reveal a deeper battle within themselves.
Every structure is highly evocative: from the different smells to the creaks in the floorboards, Walsh doesn't spare any bullets to aim for authenticity and to conjure emotions in the attendees. The rooms look stunning with their details and meticulous props arrangements with Paul Fahy's curating the design and creation of believably realistic living spaces.
The crumpled pyjama top on the little girl's unmade bed, the pot that's being left to dry in the kitchen, the stack of glass cups on the desk in the hotel room, the toilet paper by the WC, the gutted file cabinet, everything is there to make sure the audience is fully enveloped in a specific fantasy.
Walsh ensures that no outside noises nor light reache the inside of the big boxes, controlling the atmosphere to the most minimal elements and leading the participants to natural silence and attention with lighting designer Adam Fitzsimons' pivotal contribution.
The company builds a communal experience: by removing their public from reality and having them intrude on a stranger's life they make a poignant statement on intimacy and communion. With Rooms, Walsh experiments with the very notion of theatre, showing the imperfect lives he's written through their very own absence.