Theatre review: The Destroyed Room (4 stars)

A brutal critique of an ailing society

Vanishing Point's The Destroyed Room

Daryl Cockburn, Pauline Goldsmith, Samuel Keefe, Elicia Daly, Barnaby Power in The Destroyed Room / credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

Despite an apparently meandering structure, and an informal introduction, Vanishing Point’s latest production trawls the same dark social underbelly as their shocking play Wonderland. Nominally a conversation between three people about the famous photograph by Jeff Walls, The Destroyed Room rapidly evolves into a vicious dissection of the chattering classes, deconstructing the very idea of theatre as a forum for meaningful public debate.

While the conversation roams across various themes – the culture of Facebook, the reasons behind the mass migrations into Europe, the terrorist attack in Paris – Matthew Lenton’s intention gradually reveals itself. Refusing answers to the problems discussed – the three characters seem barely able to experience empathy, let alone provide trenchant analysis of political chaos – The Destroyed Room reflects a society without depth and reason. The finale in which the set is destroyed by forces invisible is a potent symbol of the slow decay of a decadent civilisation that can only observe and comment, never act.

Although Lenton is capable of making populist theatre, in his more experimental pieces, he is alienating and aggressive. By placing the characters in familiar surroundings, with wine, a comfortable sofa and a bookcase suggestive of comfortable wealth and education, The Destroyed Room becomes a mirror to the audience’s social world. That they so easily brush over their complicity – and lack of emotional engagement – with disasters makes them both morally ugly and recognisably human.

The surface of the play is safe, self-conscious and smooth. Yet from this appearance, Lenton bleeds the horrors that lurk beneath. The idea that Western civilisation is under threat is a trope on both the left and right in politics, either from undemocratic leaders or invading foreigners. Yet The Destroyed Room, with its large screens projecting the action, its self-involved characters and brutal use of video footage, suggests that society is more likely to dissolve through an excess of indulgence and unacknowledged alienation. And the very audience that attends the show is responsible.

The Destroyed Room plays: Eden Court, Inverness 19–20 Feb; Tron Theatre, Glasgow 25 Feb–5 March; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 9–12 March; Battersea Arts Centre, London 27 April – 14 May.

The Destroyed Room

Vanishing Point’s production takes its inspiration from Jeff Wall’s celebrated photograph, famously featured on the cover of Sonic Youth’s album of the same name.


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