Game: What Would You Do For A Nice House?
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
We know the housing crisis is bad, but this? We're tucked into a booth with about 25 other people, staring at a video screen — if we weren't all wearing silent disco-style headphones we could for all the world be about to enter a karaoke booth — when blinds wind up in front of us and we can see Carly (Jodie McNee) and Ashley (Mike Noble) skipping around inside a house. It could be their new house, if they agree to... what, exactly? That quickly becomes apparent, as the screens switch to grainy footage of a man with a rifle, aiming at the newly moved-in pair, enjoying the hot tub. He aims, fires and Ashley collapses. What kind of dystopian hell have we walked into?
Audience relief is palpable once we realise that — minor, necessary, spoiler alert — the guns contain tranquiliser darts, not bullets. In return for somewhere to live and a small stipend, Carly and Ashley have agreed to be part of a game where people pay to shoot them unconscious. The players have, seemingly, been conjured from the worst comment sections of newspaper websites ("Take a load of kids, you can tell instantly which ones are going to jail"; "People like that, don't let 'em breed"). And worse, they're doing the shooting from within each of the audience booths, right next to us.
This is the production's sucker punch. We're not just watching, we're part of this. Have we paid the Game to be voyeurs? How complicit are we? There's a terrible moment when Ashley asks the Warden (Kevin Harvey) to give them some privacy, so they can have sex without anyone looking. The Warden lowers the blinds and turns away, but the action continues on the video screens, forcing each audience member to make their own moral judgement about what's right to watch.
Mike Bartlett's script isn't always subtle, cramming a lot of ideas into one hour and whereas Carly, Ashley and the Warden are gently realised, the shooters sometimes feel one-dimensional. But the idea is breathtaking and brutal, exactly what we'd expect from the writer who recently brought us a modern history play in Shakespearean verse and a play about corporate bullying set in a boxing ring. The design (Miriam Buether) and direction (Sacha Wares) will take some beating come awards season — when every other production brags about its immersive qualities, this has shades of Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man for putting you within a heartbeat of the action. It's uncomfortable, but worth it.
Game is on at the Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street N1, until 4 April. There are two performances each night, tickets £16-£30. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 05 March 2015