Review: House of Games, Almeida

“Now that’s what I call a therapeutic intervention”

The Almeida plays host to the world premiere of House of Games, a Richard Bean stage adaptation of David Mamet’s 1987 film Margaret Ford is a celebrated wealthy psychoanalyst working in Chicago but after allowing one of her patients to get under her skin, ends up compromising her professional reputation as she attempts to resolve his gambling debts and gets sucked into a world of tricksy cardsharps and handsome hustlers. She attempts to justify her actions by writing a book about this world but soon realises she is in way out of her depth.

It is all good fun and nicely paced under Lindsay Posner’s direction as we whip through the series of events in 100 minutes without an interval. There’s lots in here to keep you guessing throughout, but there are a couple of moments where it resembles the BBC1 programme Hustle far too close for comfort, and those experienced in this type of thriller might be a little disappointed the way in which things go. That said, although I worked out what was going on, my companion remained unaware and consequently really enjoyed the revelations.

It is a mystery to me as to why Nancy Carroll isn’t hugely famous yet. She has been on fire for the last few years in a chameleonic range of roles and is practically unrecognisable from her outstanding performance in After the Dance, but delivers another strong turn here as a woman swept completely off her feet by a handsome stranger and then thoroughly disorientated by the subsequent turn of events. She also pulls off some incredibly quick changes of outfit as she slips between her ordered, professional world and the unfamiliar underworld gambling terrain.

I really enjoy watching Amanda Drew on stage, she is such an intriguing actress and I just wish there was more opportunity for her and Carroll to interact in this play as they work well together, and also Drew’s hair is just fabulous by the end of the show! John Marquez is really good as the dim as molasses Bobby and there’s also good support from Trevor Cooper and Al Weaver. Michael Landes plays the handsome seducer well but could do with working in a little more subtlety into Mike to give him the necessary depth to see him as more than just a conman.

The set is well designed by Peter McKintosh, creating the titular sleazy den of the poker players, complete with well-stocked bar, but also adding a second tier in a cutaway stage above it for Margaret’s office. I’m wary of saying too much but the final quarter has been revised to lend it an even more twisty climax which I found effective and the classy cast give it their all to create an entertaining, if not quite as complex as one might have hoped for, evening.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 6th November
Note: there’s a loud noise or two to watch out for. This is a review of the final preview performance (15th September)

2 Replies to “Review: House of Games, Almeida”

  1. Hey you! I see the programme cost is £3. Does this mean you have one? Are you able to say if it's worth buying? Am wondering what it has in addition to the usual cast bios and ream of advertising.

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