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The Theatreguide.London Review

Almeida Theatre         Spring 2015

Game is a live theatrical event carefully designed to be as little like a live theatrical event as possible. 

You may find that an interesting exercise, but you will almost certainly not find it an emotionally engaging experience, because so much effort has gone into distancing you from the play. 

Why playwright Mike Bartlett, director Sacha Wares and designer Miriam Buether chose to do this can be guessed at. But whatever power Game has lies in the writer's original concept, not in the several layers of self-sabotage that have been imposed on it. 

Mike Bartlett imagines an economy and housing market so damaged that people will accept a free home even though it comes with amateur marksmen who pay a lot of money to hide in its walls and shoot the inhabitants with tranquilliser darts. 

The drug wears off quickly and does no physical damage. But the psychological cost of knowing you have no privacy but not knowing when the attacks will come or who will be the target is, unsurprisingly, quite large. 

We also catch glimpses of some of the shooters, who are unsurprisingly despicable (macho guys, a drunken hen party, etc.), and of the minimum-wage-earning gun caddy who develops an unexpected conscience over the several years of the play. 

So Bartlett has something to say about desperation and depravity, though not a lot. And meanwhile play and production try their damnedest to distance us as far as possible from the characters, events or implications. 

In a totally rebuilt Almeida the audience sits in four separate sections surrounding a central glass-walled box holding the main set and victim couple, who we can watch when blocking shutters are raised. 

The shooters appear in or near the audience sections but, because of the separation, wherever they may be is only visible to most of us via television screens. 

The same screens show pre-recorded scenes of the victims when the shutters are down. And even when the shutters are up and we can watch the actors directly, they're also on camera and onscreen. 

So one could and many do choose to experience the whole one-hour show on television, ignoring the live actors. 

Oh, and because of all of these barriers the audience must wear earphones to hear what they can't and what they can see, so at no time do we encounter direct human voices. 

Which raises the question, Why not just do it as a television play in the first place? 

There is a hint of moral complicity in our position as voyeurs, but not much, and all the distancing devices protect us from any real feelings of guilt just as they prevent much emotional involvement with the characters. 

Given the sporadic nature of their appearances and the literal walls between them and us, Jodie McNee and Mike Noble as the central couple have little chance to bring much depth or reality to their characters, and the shooters are all quickly sketched caricatures. 

Only Kevin Harvey as the increasingly reluctant gun caddy has the opportunity to create and develop a textured and sympathetic character.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Game - Almeida Theatre 2015  
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