Ambassador Review – The Atom Room

Circa Theatre; June 27, 2018
Review by Ben Shea, Wellington College

It is often the case with our cool little capital of Wellington we are so spoiled for choice by the abundance of culture that we miss the little gems which don’t come from an ‘Award winning Broadway season’ or ‘Straight off the West End’.  Philip Braithwaite’s new play The Atom Room is one such production which should by no means be missed. From the promotional material it seems like a Kiwi attempt to jump on the long departed dystopian train, but it’s more than a dystopian tale, or in fact a science-fiction one. For the most part it is in fact a love story, telling the story of a couple’s struggle to stay together while separated by 54.6 million kilometres of space and connected only by the wonders of the Atom Room. As Clare Waldron (Margret) touched on in the post show Q&A the story could take place anywhere, anytime, in any kind of long distance relationship. The Martian setting is merely another way of exploring a universally applicable idea.

The small cast all deliver, the dynamic between Sarah (Harriet Prebble) and Danny (Taylor Hall) is strange and almost distorted which adds to the audience belief in the separation of the two lovers. We feel Danny’s longing to be with his wife again, this helps to add to the believability of Danny’s actions at his lowest point in the play. Prebble truly captures the feeling of being torn between career progression and wanting to be with her loving husband. Sarah’s boss, Margret helps to drive the show forward, she is the catalyst which drives the story forward, she also provides some of the funnier moments in the story. Overall it is a very well-acted production with the small cast all feeling important and contributing only what is necessary to the story without overstuffing the show.    

The play deals with a variety of themes, from the haunting future of Wellington as climate change begins to take effect, to whether our technology driven lives are destroying the power of true love. It even briefly discusses the death of so called “soft skills”, or non-technological/scientific talents. It is the kind of play which makes you think but is not dependent on this to be successful. It is a love story which raises questions about humanity and where we (particularly in NZ) are going.

I think it was the fusion of the show with the music of New Zealand electronic band Minuit, which gave the show it’s unique feel. In the small space of Circa Two, the music soars and lifts the show to an almost cinematic level of engagement. Using three large LED screens, the simplistic set is transformed from apocalyptic Wellington, to a rare hill where the air is breathable, to the titular atom room and to various other locations in between. I was sceptical as I came into the theatre, having had bad experiences with AV in the past but the tech more than delivered. It was a welcome addition to a show which lifted the standards that our stage technologies should reach.

My only criticism of The Atom Room is the pre-show VR experience which feels slightly tacky and really doesn’t contribute anything to the show itself. Otherwise this production was a delight from start to finish and I would fully recommend anybody to do experience a wonderful and thought provoking night at the theatre.