Theatre review: Game at Almeida Theatre

ALMEIDA THEATRE production of
by Mike Bartlett
directed by Sacha Wares
. Picture: Keith Pa

ALMEIDA THEATRE production of GAME by Mike Bartlett directed by Sacha Wares . Picture: Keith Pattison - Credit: Keith Pattison

This game of homes feels light on drama, says Caroline David.

Mike Bartlett’s brilliantly conceived Game at the Almeida transposes the practice of computer gaming into a chilling, dystopian future full of shocks and surprises.

The Almeida is transformed into four areas with benches and camouflage print cushions; audience members are handed headsets by ushers so they can listen in on the action partly mediated through large TV screens. Seating is intimate, claustrophobic. A heavy screen draws back to reveal Miriam Buether’s spectacular set: a glass box shielding a modern interior that’s all spanking white mod cons and anodyne furniture.

Enter the players: Liverpool working-class Ashley [Mike Noble] and Carly [Jodie McNee] who want to start a family but cannot afford to buy a home and are prepared to enter into a Faustian pact to trade off their privacy Big Brother-style for domestic stability.

But the game here is far more sinister. As the players’ vital statistics flash up on the scene, we realize they are our real-life targets for sedation. An ex-army warden [Kevin Harvey] monitors the stream of punters: a bitter, middle-aged couple, a working class group of girls sharing a birthday treat, a Sloane Ranger who is turned on by seeing his fiancé hold a gun, and they are all happy to pay premium prices for the privilege of this new sport.

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Once the scenario is compellingly established, Bartlett’s storytelling falters: the questions raised are huge and Sacha Wares’ production is top heavy on style. The issues couldn’t be more urgent: the housing crisis, unemployment, the brutalizing effect of war. It’s all served up with some highly distressing scenes but the journey is swift [60 minutes] and the dramatic pay-off too pat. This laudably ambitious enterprise is both seductive and thrilling, but ultimately not enough.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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