Roam opens with a seemingly normal dinner between a cohabitating couple. Johnny and Julia discuss their days over quinoa, with their phones prominently displayed on the stark white table beside them, interrupting every second sentence. Johnny’s just lost his job, Julia’s dad just died, and all is not right between them.
Johnny begins to spend his days and nights online, where he soon meets a thirteen-year-old girl from Estonia who persuades him to join an online role-playing game set in Ancient Rome. And with that, the line between the real and virtual world – and real and virtual problems and relationships – becomes blurred, and things start to spiral.
Written by Adam Cass and developed through the Red Stitch Writers Program, Roam is an interesting exploration of the effect the Internet has had on our relationship with others and the world around us. It is an intense, immersive experience: the all-white stage and set transforms into a vivid online space with the sensational work of the lighting, animation, sound design and stage management team. David Nelson and Michael Watson are to be especially congratulated for their brilliant video and animation work, and stage manager Shannon Quinn and her assistant Jillian Britton pulled off the complicated series of lighting, animation and sound cues without missing a beat.
Red Stitch ensemble actors Ngaire Dawn Fair, Tim Potter and Ella Caldwell all worked beautifully together. The various relationships – real and online – that are developed between Julia, Johnny and the young Estonian girl are strong and well-realised. Fair, in particular, is fantastic, evoking both the confused innocence and burgeoning sexuality of the teenager with masterful restraint and balance. A scene set in cyberspace between her and Caldwell’s Julia, in which Julia learns of Johnny’s online high jinks, is a highlight of the play.
As Julia, Caldwell is a strong player; her confusion at Johnny’s behaviour and her longing for intimacy with him – especially as she grieves for her recently deceased father – evokes a layered and interesting character. Unluckily for Caldwell – an obviously skilled actor – Julia is the least developed character in the play. The character of Julia acts as someone for Johnny to push against in the real world; her personal reality – including her grief, troubled relationship with her mother and distress at Johnny’s waning sexual interest in her – is full of potential but never explored.
Johnny’s struggle to stay engaged in the real world is also well-realised by Tim Potter, as he explores Johnny’s complicated relationship with the women in his life and his two ‘worlds’. He provides some of the lighter moments in the play as he descends into the online world of Ancient Rome and takes to the stage as a borderline-deranged warrior, desperately trying to win a battle at the expense of his real-world relationships.
The partnership between Johnny and Julia is interesting and beautifully acted; it is just a shame that there is so little of their reality explored. While the point of the play is to illuminate the complexities of getting involved in an online world, more of a balance between the human relationships and those on the Internet would have added a new depth to the play for the performers to really sink their teeth into.
Roam is an ambitious and truly modern play, and Red Stitch is to be commended for its role in bringing such an interesting piece of theatre to the Australian stage. Further character development would make this play sensational, however in its current state it still stands as a strong and relevant piece that shines, especially at the hands of Red Stitch’s skilled and creative team.