There is no roof to The Roof: the show takes place in a car park, with performers and audiences alike exposed to the night sky – and the weather. It adds to the sense of jeopardy that runs through this ambitious, innovative spectacle which combines dance, free-running and video gaming in a show about goals, free will, futility and failure. Should it rain, the task of the dancers leaping, sliding and rolling their way round the set would become that bit more challenging.
Conceived by Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg, and presented at the London International Festival of Theatre by Fuel, The Roof wraps around the audience. In the inverse of a circus ring, the spectators are gathered in the central space of a drum and the action unfolds around the top of the circular wall. Everyone is equipped with headphones that deliver the soundtrack, putting them into the world of the game, with its bizarre rules and instructions, and joining the solitary nature of gaming to the communal experience of theatre. It’s a great idea with lots going for it, though it doesn’t quite meet expectations.
A trapdoor flaps open and Player 611 (Danilo Caruso) pops up, wearing the uniform and impassive features of an avatar. He about-turns, marches off on his mission, and instantly falls down a hole. No matter, though – he has two lives left. Up he pops again and this time negotiates the first hurdle. And on he goes, up the levels of difficulty, leaping across the rooftops of Jon Bausor’s set, tackling the mysterious monsters, opponents and setbacks that come his way, visiting the all-purpose shop for fuel or repair.
The show mixes the bizarre rules of a game with those of mythical quests and the challenges of real life. On an early level, our hero has to beat his mother’s disapproving voice. Above all, he has to keep going – as in life. And as in life, he doesn’t make the rules.
There is allegorical meat amid the running and fighting, although to deliver on its potential, the show would need to delve much more deeply and reveal something fresh. It’s pretty opaque in places and it’s not clear whether passages of mystical waffle are ironic references or not. But the concept is fun and the athletic dancers are remarkable, managing to move like early avatars, keep time and negotiate the set, with Si Rawlinson particularly impressive as an indestructible opponent.