If theatre is going to thrive then it must take risks. And the Almeida Theatre takes a risk with Game, a thrilling – and chilling – examination of the tipping point of our humanity that doesn’t just excite and disturb, but also transforms the experience of theatre itself.
Carly (Jodie McNee) and Ashley (Mike Noble) are a young couple looking around the apartment of their dreams – contemporary modernist furniture, soft-close kitchen drawers and even a private hot-tub. But this is a property way beyond the means of this young couple yet, intriguingly, by the end of the first scene they have agreed to move in. But how could they afford this?
And then the price of their dream starts to manifest itself.
For the plush apartment is actually owned by John (Daniel Cerqueira) a savvy entrepreneur who is offering punters the ultimate rush – the opportunity to hunt and shoot human prey in their own home. And so introverted ex-soldier David is drafted in (a brilliant performance from Kevin Harvey) to not just patrol the apartment but also to serve the many visitors who rush at the chance to shoot powerful tranquilizer darts at Carly and Ashley at their leisure.
It’s a harrowing set-up. Watching Carly and Ashley in their most intimate moments being shot unconscious again and again by the unseen hunters, the punters who are shrouded from the couple by porous walls, stalking their every move through video cameras yet who think nothing of their victims in their pursuit of temporary kicks.
Yet the immersive quality of the production is exciting as we, the audience, are placed firmly in the position of the hunter. We too are behind the walls, we too have access to the security cameras that track the couple’s every move, and every piece of their conversations comes through the wireless headsets we’re obliged to wear.
As we watch and listen, the wannabe shooters plan and plot around us as, in front of us, the couple obliviously go about their daily lives – two conversations going on simultaneously, two stories to follow and about to collide. And by our very staging, we become complicit in this set-up.
Yet all of this clever staging would be meaningless, little more than a gimmick, if there wasn’t a real bite in the writing.
Game is written by Mike Bartlett, the man behind King Charles III and Bull, and it is a bitter reflection on the human condition. It is superb writing that deftly weaves together a whole raft of themes and issues including the human propensity for violence, poverty, housing, responsibility… even PTSD and sexual consent.
And there are so many questions left unanswered at the end – just what is consent in a world of desperate people? Where is that line between exploitation and consent? And just how desensitised are we now? Is there any empathy left?
Though our focus remains on the couple who made the Faustian pact, and the warden who guards them, there are a myriad of other characters – the shooters – who come and go. Every single acting performance is superb with each actor bringing depth and variety to their role.
Direction comes from Sacha Wares who has brought together a terrific balance of pathos and pace. The design team, led by Miriam Buether, most definitely deserve credit for their complete and terrific transformation of the Almeida Theatre.
That there’s darkness in this play is obvious but there is also great humour and moments of real heartbreak and tragedy. And for all this to be brought together in a short play of only 60 minutes is an extraordinary achievement. Grab your tickets to see this because this is revolutionary in design and urgent in substance.
Almeida Theatre, London to April 4, 2015
1. Mike Noble and Jodie McNee by Keith Pattison
2. Mike Noble and Jodie McNee by Keith Pattison
3. Jodie McNee and Mike Noble by Keith Pattison
4. Jodie McNee and Mike Noble by Keith Pattison
5. Mike Noble and Jodie McNee by Keith Pattison
This article is also available on the Huffington Post UK website.