We recently saw The Dark Room for the first time. As soon as we got home, we booked tickets to see it again! In this review of The Dark Room, I share why it’s such a fantastic show and why you need to experience it for yourself!
What is The Dark Room?
A regular at the Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival, the Insomnia Gaming Festival and the UK Games Expo, The Dark Room is a comedy live-action text-based adventure game. It parodies the text-based adventures of the 1980s.
You might remember that kind of choose your own adventure game. You’d start on a path in some woods trying to find a route through it by typing sentences like, ‘Walk North’ or ‘Take the left path’. Then, after 3 hours of getting lost, drawing maps on paper, and feeling increasingly angry and frustrated, you finally make it out of the forest… to be eaten by a kitten!
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John Robertson has crafted his own text adventure game, The Dark Room, and he invites you to play it with him. If you complete the game, you’ll win £1,000. If you lose… your character meets its end!
But it is so much more than playing a game in a room with other people. John is a stand-up comedian too, and that means no-one in the audience is safe! Audience participation is expected and encouraged. In fact, you, the audience, are key to the enjoyment of the show…
To get a feel for what the show’s all about, check out the trailer below from John Robertson’s YouTube channel.
What to expect at the show
John Robertson as Game Master
You’ll be in a dark room with your friends and strangers and John will come on stage dressed in an outfit that combines heavy metal and cyberpunk.
His on-stage persona for the game master is like a cross between Richard O’Brien from the Crystal Maze and David Bowie’s Goblin King in Labyrinth. He’s full of energy, a bit unnerving, and completely in control of the audience.
John will boot up the game, load the ‘special effects’ and illuminate his face with a torch held under his chin. Yep. In the 80s, we made our fun with whatever we had!
A game timer will appear on the screen, 45 minutes, as will the number of audience lives. The game begins.
5 individual players will be chosen
5 audience members will be selected to play… No one is safe from being chosen! Some people volunteer to play, and some people will try to nominate other audience members to play.
That’s what my boyfriend, Mark, did. He nominated another of our friends.
But it backfired!
John strolled over, asked my friend if she was being pushed into it by Mark (she was) asked me if I condoned it (I didn’t). I was instructed to move seats…
John then went and sat down next to my other half and had everyone laughing as he mocked Mark’s job of ‘Estimator’. “Your job is to be in a perpetual state of uncertainty.” He’ll be putting that in his list of LinkedIn skills.
Then Mark got to play the game! So cool! Definitely an experience we won’t forget.
Like all 5 contestants, he won a fabulous prize for taking part. Mark’s prize was the remains of John’s chicken wing dinner he ate before the show. Like I said, fabulous prizes!
The Passive-Aggressive Co-op Round
Two people from the audience will be picked to work together to play. ‘work together’ is perhaps not quite the right description.
They take it in turns to choose an option and get tutted and scowled at by their partner every time they make a choice.
When their turn is over it’s time for…
The Democracy Round
My favorite round! This is where everyone in the audience shouts out the option they want.
The option which gets shoutest the loudest is the one that gets chosen.
Be prepared to shout your lungs out! The day after the show my throat was so sore from shouting I sounded like I had a cold.
The Democracy Round is the final round of the game. After that, the game is over. If you’re at a longer show, you may have a break and then play another 45-minute game. And afterward…
Q&A, Photos and Merch
John’s persona is quite intimidating on stage, but out of character, he’s very approachable and happy to chat with people and answer questions.
At the end of the show, the audience can ask questions. At both shows, I’ve seen people who wanted to know if anyone had ever beaten The Dark Room. Two people have.
John will also pose for photos. Here’s one of my group at the show.
And there’s some awesome merch you can buy too. Here’s the cool Dark Room loading screen t-shirt that my friend bought!
John Robertson has even written a children’s book. If you have children who like dark humor like Horrible Histories they might enjoy The Little Town of Marrowville available on Amazon.
What’s good about The Dark Room?
Interactive comedy show
The Dark Room is a game show, but it’s also a comedy show. Besides running The Dark Room, John Robertson is a stand-up comedian and you can tell.
With just a few questions asked to each contestant he gets an insight into their lives and throws out jokes that have everyone laughing.
The show is a live-action videogame made by a gamer for gamers. There’s even a videogame version of The Dark Room on Steam in early access now.
Expect references to games and nerd culture throughout the show.
But if you aren’t a gaming nerd you’ll still have a great time.
Darren… Flamboyant potatoes… “You awake to find yourself in a dark room.” “You proceed in the direction you believe to be North. How can you be sure? You’re in a dark room.” Are all things that will simply be part of your life after watching the Dark Room.
Like any great comedy show, you’ll find yourself quoting it for several weeks afterwards.
For the last week or so anytime it’s getting dark and Mark says, “I’d better put a light on.” I reply with,
“How will you find the light switch? You’re in a Dark Room. You need the light switch to see. Do you see?”
Every show is unique
The chanted responses to the most commonly chosen options are the same and are super enjoyable to shout along with the crowd!
But there are hundreds of unique screens in the game. And when you combine that with the audience interaction, different players, and John’s quick wit, every show is a unique experience.
What’s bad about it?
- You may get chosen. If you are chosen you must change your name…
- You probably won’t win. (John says that only two people have actually won the game before.)
What I wish I’d known before
People will volunteer themselves to play or nominate their friends too. So while you may get chosen to play, if other people are volunteering, it’s a lot less likely.
Be careful if you point out another person to play. You may get chosen yourself, which is exactly what happened to my boyfriend!
How long does The Dark Room last for and how much does it cost?
45 minutes per game which includes 5 individual players, the Passive-Aggressive Co-Op Round, and the Democracy Round.
At the show, we played two 45-minute games with a break in the middle to get a drink, buy some merch, take a selfie and get a drink. That was £10 a ticket.
At the UK Games Expo 2019, the show was one hour long for one game. It was £6. Bargain!
There’s a longer variant of the show at the UK Games Expo. The show goes on until the players have run out of lives. That could be an hour, it could be three. The 2019 one lasted for 3 and a half hours! Tickets cost £10. Incredible value for money!
Find out if The Dark Room is coming to a town near you on John Robertson’s event page.
Is The Dark Room suitable for children?
The show contains language and themes that aren’t suitable for children.
The UK Games Expo show we saw was rated 12A. There were some children in the crowd from about the ages of 12 upwards. John checked with the parents at the start of the show, if they minded him using bad language in front of their children. None of the parents minded at all!
The game choices unsuitable for children were left out of that version.
There are versions of the show that are child-friendly called The Dark Room for Kids so keep an eye out for those.
Conclusion – The Dark Room Review
The Dark Room is an experience you won’t forget…
You’ll sit in a Dark Room. You’ll shout at complete strangers. You’ll find yourself learning and shouting the common responses like, “You awake to find yourself in a Dark Room!”. Then you’ll leave and wonder if you’re now part of a new, special family.
Yes. Yes, you are, Darren.
If you enjoy live-action games, you might also enjoy one that takes place in your nearest city, CluedUpp, A Detective Mystery Game like Clue.