Review: Robert Lepage Playing Cards 1: Spades @ Roundhouse

By Tim Macavoy Last edited 68 months ago
Review: Robert Lepage Playing Cards 1: Spades @ Roundhouse


Canadian auteur Robert Lepage returns to the Roundhouse with panoramic snapshots of what he did on his holidays with Cirque du Soleil.

Spades is the first of a four-part exploration of in-the-round theatre, our modern liminal lives, and playing cards. Set in 2003 at the outbreak of the Iraq War, a host of multi-cultural wanderers find themselves entwined at a Las Vegas retreat. The suit of spades was originally swords, and in this production represents war, risk and chance.

Metaphors for the controversial war range from European soldiers training in the Nevada desert and frisking Hollywood actors in a fake Iraqi village, to a Mexican maid suffering from fainting fits. The references are sometimes oblique and the dialogue is more functional than profound, but it’s the execution that steals the show.

Lepage has never been comfortable in a box (theatre) and embraces every dimension he can. Many 360 degree performances stay safe with sparse set, relying on actor movement to give the audience clear sightlines. Lepage creates a puzzle box (a bit like Hellraiser, but not as Pinheady) where six actors, playing multiple multilingual characters, emerge through trapdoors and rising platforms, onto a revolving stage that changes set more often than a TV sketch show.


Perspex chairs descend from the ceiling as though lowered by helicopters, landing in a perfect circle in a meeting room. Steam rises through a pit creating an instant swimming pool. Hotel room doors rise and fall, while furniture seemingly rearranges itself. We even visit a casino, the desert, an airport, a bar, and an army base.

To watch a Robert Lepage show is really to accept the experience of a master at play. It’s best to sit back and enjoy the sensations than fight the urge to second guess him. That said, there’s plenty to hold on to: the suggestion that the Iraq war was as much a game of risk and greed as any game of roulette; the soldier who faces bigger battles within the army than in combat; and the idea that the devil can tempt a newly married couple with Celine Dion tickets.

Lepage is as thrilling as he’s ever been, and there are three more plays coming over the next eight years to follow suit.

Spades runs at the Roundhouse until 2 March, at 7pm and lasts 2hrs 30 mins without an interval. Tickets are £15-£45 available from the venue.

Last Updated 12 February 2013