“They’re adults, they’re not stupid, they knew what this was”
There’s not too much more that can be added to the debate about Mike Bartlett’s Game that hasn’t been said elsewhere, aside from to note that I really rather liked it. Lowered expectations probably helped with this but also there’s also an appreciation for the way in which Bartlett seems to like to work. His concepts tend to either get developed into large-scale epic plays such 13 and Earthquakes in London or crystallised on the micro-level, producing works in miniature like Cock, Bull and Contractions.
Game very much falls into this latter category, coming in at under an hour, and on the face of it – as pointed out by many – lacking a huge amount of dramatic heft. Fitting into one of 2015’s earliest theatrical trends, Carly and Ashley have made a deal with the devil in order to secure decent housing for themselves – in return for accommodation and income, they’re targets in a live-action video game as punters pay for the opportunity to fire tranquilising darts at them as they go about their daily business.
The catch is that Sacha Wares’ production ensures that we’re utterly complicit in the action as a voyeuristic audience. Miriam Buether’s design completely reconfigures the Almeida so that we’re sat in four zones around the central apartment, peering in through its transparent walls and watching the people firing on them through monitors. Listening through headphones, it changes our role as an audience member quite cannily and unnervingly too.
And even in the short running time, Bartlett takes aim at society’s propensity for poverty porn (cf Benefits Street), reality TV that grows ever more desperate and over-the-top to get ratings (cf the ever-changing X-Factor), the housing crisis, violent video games – even if these aren’t fully fleshed-out dramatic themes, they feel thought-provoking enough. Is that enough from a play? Does it have to do more with the subjects it raises? Some might argue yes but this Game went on just long enough for me.