Review: Do you have to be shocked by Mike Bartlett's Game at the Almeida to appreciate it?
*warning* I've tried and probably failed to write this without spoilers so sorry...
The Almeida has been transformed for Mike Bartlett's new play Game. We were ushered into what looked a bit like a large bird watching hide with blinds obscuring the view.
There were three screens mounted high up which were difficult to see if you were sat on the front row but more of that later. Everyone is given a headset and there is a sound and volume test before the 'Game' begins. As the screens rise you realise you are an observer, sitting behind one way glass.
Its premise is that a young couple are given a swish new home, one they could never afford but with certain conditions attached. The play is a social and political commentary on the current housing crisis and whether reality TV is desensitising us. The problem is that the idea of violence and cruelty for entertainment purposes has been done before and with far greater teeth - The Hunger Games, is just one example.
I know some people have found Game shocking but I was underwhelmed. That may be Bartlett's point, that we are already well on the way to being desensitised and it is something I have thought about a lot since I saw the play. However, I come back to the same point: it feels like a topic that has been explored in interesting ways already.
For a start the whole Big Brother concept feels passé. The TV show has been around for 16 years and has spawned a whole genre of reality concepts such as I'm a Celebrity.
Look, also at the Japanese TV game shows, that involve inflicting discomfort and humiliation on participants. Ironically, clips from those shows used to appear regularly on our own point-and-laugh TV compilation shows so that we could laugh at the Japanese TV audiences laughing at the TV.
So do I believe that popular entertainment will push further into morally dubious territories? Yes, of course I do but I didn't need Game to tell me that.
What I love about Mike Bartlett's work is his dialogue. In Game his words, together with the performances capture a certain banality of everyday life and there is merit in that but it also made the play feel empty. The twist in the game's concept is dealt with so matter-of-factly that it is like you are being invited not to care and I'm not sure I did.
When it comes down to it I felt a little bored by Game and it is only 55 minutes long. It feels like an opportunity missed; a concept worked better on paper than in the staging. I am a huge fan of Bartlett's work but this one will be filed alongside Earthquakes in London as a miss rather than a hit for me.
* From the front row you do have to crane your neck to see the screens and I had to give up after a while as it was making my neck sore. I notice others were having the same problem.
Game is on at the Almeida until April 4 and there are two shows a night starting at 7pm and 9pm.
Mike Bartlett plays I've enjoyed:
Always easy with Bartlett as Mr W was in Cock.