BWW Review: YOU GAME, Studio Theatre RADA
Screenwriter, Jack Guest, sits at his desk, Macbook open, ever so pleased with himself. With Vanity Fairs scattered on not-Ikea coffee tables and a giant poster from his hit movie franchise glowering over him, his Holland Park apartment reeks of success - tinged with the ennui that infects a restless mind in a consumerist world.
Enter Bella, a smart, younger, Dalston-based actress, who can hold her own with the wit and bite her tongue at the casual misogyny and racism, which may or may not be a wind up (there's a lot of that "may or may not be a blank, blank, blank"). Let the games commence.
Jack's wife, Alice, definitely prefers Bella to Jack and Jack is definitely less than pleased with that bruise to his engorged ego, and Bella definitely sees that Jack has something to offer her. But beyond that - who knows? Certainly not us and maybe not even them.
Sam Ra's You Game is adapted from Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth, updated for the 21st century. There's the to-be-expected pleasing verbal jousting and a couple of fine performances by Ivan Murphy and Alice McCarthy, but a concept like this needs to be judged on what comes up fresh - after all, its source material has been produced on stage and filmed many times in the last fifty years.
It's in this harsh light that this production slips a little.
In an admittedly tricky space (but one that is beautifully designed by Louis Carver) more often than not, one speaker is always facing away (or half away) from us, so I simply couldn't hear some of Murphy's lines, his Irish lilt too fast and too soft to survive the cavernous auditorium. And that's a big problem in a play as talky as this one. Directors really need to sit in different parts of the house in rehearsals - it's a far too common problem in many venues.
Gender flipping the role of Bella did not add much to the drama either - Alice McCarthy delivers the role well, but, other than catching a little passing zeitgeist, whether the role is male or female, straight, gay or anything in-between, mattered nothing. (That said, her police detective came straight out of a Carry-On with about as much credibility, but that may have been the point - another game perhaps?)
And the denouement? What to make of that? Well, was it really the end? Is it just the start of another game? Or are we really expected to believe that it happened as played? That may all be a deliberate choice in the age of fake news and Photoshop, but it felt a little unsatisfactory.
Maybe we should ask Anton Chekhov - he knew a thing or two about guns on stage.