“Naturally, we begin with an idea,” says Director Matthew Lenton. “It may be an image, a dream, a piece of text, even a feeling.”
In the case of The Destroyed Room this idea was a photograph by Jeff Wall. Along with being shown the image the audience is also told a little bit about Wall and how his photography is staged and performative. His work rejects the idea of objectivity and the photographer’s role “as witness or journalist”. This performativity theme is taken up by Vanishing Point, who introduce the three people in the show (Elicia Daly, Pauline Goldsmith and Barnaby Power) simply as ‘actors’.
These same ‘actors’ then enter the stage and sit around a set resembling a living room, or perhaps the studio of a television talk show. They have been invited to have a discussion whilst two cameramen film them. The video footage is simultaneously projected onto a large screen above the stage.
It all seems very straightforward: informal and light-hearted chat, often referring to the audience or talking to them directly (particularly in the case of Goldsmith who leads the conversation). They talk about ‘The Destroyed Room’ as an idea and the prospect of being burgled – the embarrassing things potential ransackers might find. But soon the conversation shifts; they talk about social media, the press, the images we’ve all seen in the news, or have access to online. They talk about a Jordanian pilot being burnt alive in a cage.
Throughout the early easy discussion, there’s a dark undertone present – a sense of unease you can’t quite put your finger on. Slowly, the tone changes and the performers begin to behave in a way people on daytime TV never do. Their conversation becomes more real, their performative selves are stripped away, and they begin to talk frankly about the images and videos they’ve seen – the ones we’ve all seen.
There’s a confessional quality to the discussion. Daly talks about her fascination with watching natural disasters online. She treads uncertainly into describing a video she saw of a man being swept away by a tsunami. She watched the moment where the wave hits him on the beach, again and again. “I love that moment,” she tells the others. “Well, obviously, I don’t love it. It’s so sad….It’s beautiful.”
Along with the tone of the piece, the room the actors inhabit also feels like it morphs, moving from studio, to Big Brother House, to some kind of hostage situation. Even the cameramen, after a while, become ominous entities. Why are they filming? Who are they filming for? As the piece moves to darker territory the eye is drawn to the screen above the stage. It’s easier to watch the difficult parts like this, as though you’re watching a film. In this way, and in many other subtle and intricate ways, The Destroyed Room makes us question everything, not only about our relationship to the media, but to theatre as well.
As it moves towards a haunting crescendo, the work excellently explores our subjection and addiction to gruesome pictures, the idea of passivity and, above all, the power of the image.