Adam J A Cass’s Roam was developed through the Red Stitch Writers Program. Like his very successful I Love You, Bro (first seen at the 2007 Fringe), it’s about remembering that no matter how anonymous we play on the internet, there’s a person behind every hot game avatar, flattering wink and bitchy comment.
Johnny (Tim Potter) and Julia (Ella Caldwell) are unhappily happy in a relationship that’s ok enough to keep going, but ignores the death of her father and the loss of his job.
For Johnny, comfort is the anonymity of web chat roulette and amateur porn. But his irresistible find is a 13-year-old girl (Ngaire Dawn Faire) from Estonia, whom he joins in an online game based on Ancient Rome. Here his credit card buys the points she can’t afford and they fight together to rule Rome as the sexiest avatars. Then Julia logs in.
The story comes to virtually real life when the design team (Benjamin Shaw, Jason Bovaird, Clare Springett, David Nelson, Michael Watson and Daniel Nixon) bring the screen onto the stage and transform the stage to the hyper-reality of Roam‘s Rome. Even with a too-Tron moment, the digital design creates a world that shows non-gamers why some gamers never want to leave their screen life, where they can look how they want to and be all the people they’ll never be bold enough to be in the dull reality of reality. (And this is why I stick to Candy Crush.)
Director and dramaturg Gary Abrahams worked with Cass on the script and their success is making an overwhelming and endlessly complex issue into a story about three people who are facing deaths and endings.
For all the whizz-bangery of the design, it’s still the question of whether Johnny and Julia will survive that creates the story’s tension and hope. However, I’d like to see more ambiguity about the 13-year-old or a bigger story about her, especially as the script keeps glancing at consequences of adults playing online with children.
There’s a level to Roam that hasn’t been revealed yet and, of course, it has to keep playing to find its depth and its bigger world (and maybe a re-boot of the ending, which is satisfying but doesn’t answer enough questions). But without programs like this Writers Program, new scripts like this wouldn’t be able to develop in front of an audience and there’s something raw and powerful about seeing a script at an early stage.
In the meantime, the cast grasp the work’s heart and its story reaches into the world of anyone who plays on a screen.