PLAYWAVE CREATIVE REVIEW: ROOMBA NATION
Reviewed by Zack Lewin
I never thought I’d find needlessly exaggerated accents funny, let alone hilarious. But somehow the Nordic theme of Roomba Nation really touched that part of my brain that compels me to laugh, and I spent a lot of this show laughing.
Roomba Nation is a hilarious romp through the exciting world of inadvertent medical corruption. It touches on concepts of egocentric medical practices and blurs the line between alternative and respected medicine.
Without revealing much of my personal life I can say that I have had many impactful experiences with the medical industry, enough for me to feel quite queasy whenever concepts of illness are treated poorly on stage (or any media for that matter). I find there to be an inherently ignorant trend of perceiving the sick as weak or incapable and moreover the perception of the medical world to be just and righteous.
I am very proud of the creators Nick O'Regan, Kate Walder, Alison Bennet and all of the team at Hurrah Hurrah for this respectful exploration of patient-doctor relationships and critical view of medical righteousness. They removed the voyeuristic tendencies of illness narratives and allowed for an authentically empathetic and critical experience.
What I loved about Roomba Nation is that its creators managed to tell an intriguing and genuine story of a sick person, within what I found to be an authentic interpretation of the medical world, while still allowing it to be absolutely ridiculously funny. The fusion of hilarity and conceptual integrity was, to me, very well accomplished.
However, the conceptual integrity was sometimes limited by its comedic outer shell; occasionally there were moments that I would have liked to understand further.
To illustrate this, I’ll use my favourite character, Nursey. If you’re conscious of spoilers, then please don’t read the next two paragraphs.
Nursey, played by multidisciplinary artist Nick O’Regan, was a complete highlight who was both entirely hilarious and the primary conduit for questioning within what was otherwise a strict conceptual environment; he was the link between Pippie (patient) and Doc (medical world). He acted as the mediator between the two and, arguably, acted as the audience surrogate as his loyalties shifted throughout the duration of the play. However, the pivotal moments that caused these loyalty shifts were not properly explored; I felt as though his character’s motivations weren’t allowed to reach a complex level. He felt flat and purely comedic, which I obviously loved, however I felt that his personality was limited to this comedic role which didn’t allow his conceptual ‘bridging’ role to be wholly executed.
I have a similar qualm with Pippie, played by Alison Bennet who also conceptualised the show. Although I can wholly empathise with the choice of the ‘multiverse’ as her coping thought process, this was the extent to her character. I enjoyed her ballerina ambitions and I was excited by how this was woven into the story, but again I didn’t find it to be explored heavily enough. This felt like a simple, “easy” way of establishing character outside of her medical world and didn’t characterise her in a human way. I would criticise that it’s problematic to improperly portray a sick character with inadequate humanisation, but then none of the characters had an adequate level of humanisation.
I wanted to see complex and nuanced reasons for what the characters did and, if they weren’t provided, at least for that mystery to provide intrigue. Instead their actions were justified by simple and superficial ambitions. For example, Doc, played by Kate Walder, was implied to have been seeking the treatment for her own glory in the medical community; I would have liked to understand why she wanted this glory at all.
I would be ignorant if I didn’t include a note on the titular robotic vacuum cleaners. Created by David Kirkpatrick these were fun personalities. I didn’t find that they added much in terms of plot but I was a huge fan of how they diversified the world and implied a grander intention.
Although I clearly have my criticisms I enjoyed Roomba Nation more than anything I’ve seen in months. I’ve found myself actively recommending this show to friends because it is hilarious and extremely enjoyable. I’m thrilled to see a respectable illness narrative on the Sydney scene and especially one that’s so down to earth and actively founded in Australian humour and wit. This is the kind of show I want to see more of when I’m looking for a night out that will make me think, laugh and have fun with my friends.
The Old 505 Theatre
6 - 21 July
Images by Stephen Reinhardt