The Unbuilt Room is a performance piece based on the idea of Open World video gaming. Open World video games (for the uninitiated) are ones in which the player is presented with a virtual world which they must navigate, collecting items for their inventory and deciding what to do to overcome obstacles. In this case, the computer system has been replaced by a single performer - Seth Kriebel - and the player by the audience, who take turns to choose from the options (e.g. "would you like to turn West or go back North") which the 'computer' offers them. In this instance, the game took place in the familiar streets of Oxford.
It's a format with a lot of potential. The interactive video game story combined with the infinite imagination of real, live humans, is an exciting prospect. However, it became apparent very early on in the performance that Kriebel may as well have been a computer in his response to the audience: when audience members tried to choose options which were unavailable in the game, they got an unflinching, computer-style response, and when we returned to places we had already visited, the script was identical. So returning to Carfax tower more than once led to a strangely surreal nightfall repetition, since this temporal marker was included in the description of the area. Kriebel's script was pre-planned and he performed it with a cold, heightened speech style, akin to a robot (albeit a robot with a nice, melodic vocal tone).
So what's the point? In terms of the content, this piece has no more creativity than you would find in a computer game, and if it were a video game on a computer, I'm afraid it'd be rather dull (we basically walked from St Michael's Street to Christ Church meadow and back a few times, and put one cog into a clock) and very short (it lasted half an hour).
In fact, the novelty that the piece offers is not in the onstage action but in the audience's interaction with the piece and with each other. Very quickly the loudest amongst the group made themselves known, offering opinions on where we should go next and pestering the audience member in charge at a given moment to agree. When one woman made a mistake and chose to go back the way we'd come instead of moving on with the game, there were exasperated moans around the room and a palpable sense of annoyance directed towards an individual. Humans are interesting group animals - we've seen it a million times in fiction (think Lord of the Flies, 1984, The Hunger Games, The Stanford Prison Experiment etc) but here it was shown to us in real life and in real time. It's scary stuff and it's unsettling to feel yourself being swept up in it. What's more, interacting with a human performer who can offer you no more than a computer would is an interesting experience and puts into question the nature of performance and art in our world.
The Unbuilt Room is a frustrating piece of theatre. But out of frustration can come interesting questions.