There’s nothing inherently wrong with the techie giving the curtest of responses in Romantic Encounters in a Darkened Room, when introduced and invited to engage in banter with Charlie Robb, who either plays himself or a character of exactly the same name – I suspect there is at least a scintilla of autobiography in this ridiculously fast-paced whizz through a large number of scenes and sketches. As for the techie’s apparent anti-social nature, he’s a busy man. With a significant amount of video technology and sound effects put into this one-man show, there is sometimes little or even nothing left to the imagination, though it all works remarkably smoothly.
There seems to be a number of new plays lately that explore the world of online dating. In this one, the ‘stranger danger’ effect never has much of a chance to manifest itself; one scene, in which Charlie attempts to woo someone through some sort of messenger service (don’t ask which one – I am blissfully ignorant of the various internet dating sites and apps), ends abruptly over an irreconcilable difference regarding dietary habits. That scene also asserted an interesting juxtaposition between dating and football, with a number of sporting metaphors.
At first I wondered if this was to be something along the lines of the 2008 documentary motion picture A Complete History of My Sexual Failures. Fortunately or unfortunately it turns out to be something very different from that, with an unpredictable (to me, at least) ending to the subplot (or was it the main plot?) involving Mary, a long-standing friend to Charlie. If the interruptions to proceedings from mobile phone calls and texts proved irritating, this only served to demonstrate the addiction that some people seem to genuinely have with their electronic devices.
Many of the scene changes are as quick as lightning, and an almost relentless high-energy pace is maintained from start to finish. Charlie is unafraid at times to be self-critical, and at other times tells his own conscience to be quiet, powering on with his proposed course of action. He is not, then, so much of a lazily caricatured one-dimensional bumbling fool, but rather a larger than life character trying to find his way in the world.
A trendy vicar scene told the audience nothing new. I think those sorts of sketches have been cropping up in comedy plays since the Swinging Sixties – you know the type, the moped riding clergyman who tries to talk about organised religion in a way that is supposed to appeal to the younger generation but ends up alienating virtually everyone. But that sort of familiarity blended in well with other, ultimately more bizarre scenes, at least one of which proved to be a journey into the unknown.
In a sense, it’s Ayckbourn-esque, inasmuch as there’s an emotional impact that accompanies the humour. It is difficult not to have some sympathy with Charlie as things don’t work out for him relationship-wise. Elsewhere, a gentle amount of audience participation adds a further level of engagement with this most hilarious and absorbing show, which isn’t so much a play as a variety performance.
It’s all done with great aplomb and enthusiasm. My frazzled state of mind, largely caused by transport problems getting to the performance I attended, was put at complete ease by this witty and hysterically funny production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Cast: Charlie Robb
Director: Douglas Tawn
Producer: Olivia Loveridge
Darkly bizarre sketches, original music and unashamed use of multimedia combine in this modern comedy experience, from the mind of Cambridge comedian Charlie Robb. Charlie’s eccentric character comedy brings to life the heartache of individuals who are more connected than they seem, including a sexually-repressed vicar, and a tortured children’s entertainer. This is the bittersweet tale of heartbreak told by an optimistic idiot, in a high-octane performance that will leave the audience in stitches, and full of feels.
17th – 19th July 2017