Adaptations are a funny thing – no matter what medium you’re moving from, or to. Stage adaptations are stranger still. The theatre, as we know it right now, is a platform of the bare minimum, most of the time. You take what you’ve got to work with, and you make it work for you. Happily, the stage adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s bestselling novel Room hits all the right notes throughout. It is chilling and heart-warming by turns, and there was almost certainly no dry eye left in the Abbey the night this reviewer went to see it.
What makes it work? Unlike the 2015 screen adaptation of the same book, Room comes to the stage stripped back to its core. At the centre of the play is Jack, who is five years old. Having grown up in the titular Room, he knows nothing of the outside world, until his mother decides to ‘rescue themselves’. Crucially, as was with the source material, the staging and direction keep Jack’s point of view, and his voice, front and centre of the action.
Acting and narration come side-by- side to create imagery that is as compelling as it is emotive. This piece does not need the realism upon which the film relied, and honestly, it was better for it. The set speaks to a child’s understanding of the world. Based in colour and concept, with every space utilised, it perfectly captures the impressions of the two main characters. In Room, Jack’s world is infinite, while Ma’s is limited. Outside, Ma is free, while Jack has had everything that he has ever known taken from him. Stunning projected animations add to the child-like feeling of the set, and contrast chillingly with the sometimes difficult nature of the acting.
Yet, this was not a straight-forward adaptation. O’Donoghue, along with the cast and team, have pushed the boundaries of this story. More time and attention is given to characters, to developing them into complex, three-dimensional people. At the end of Room, the audience is left with the gnawing, questioning feeling that the story isn’t over. This is how theatre should be, posing more questions than answers.
Room @ The Abbey Theatre
Síofra Ní Shluaghadháin