Game, the world premiere of Mike Barlett’s new satire on the housing crisis, is currently being staged at the Almeida Theatre, London. The audience are split into four groups and given headphones to wear while they sit on camouflage-decorated benches. Behind raising electronic shutters in front of them is an aspirational house: the startlingly realistic set is eerily reminiscent of those properties used for the reality TV show Big Brother.
The audience peer into the house to watch an unemployed couple, played by Jodie McNee and Mike Noble, as they look around. At the same time images on suspended televisions above show the proprietor of the Game, played by Daniel Cerqueria, showing an ex-army recruit, played by Kevin Harvey, around the hides. It’s at that moment you realise you, the audience, are in the hide. You are more than a mere audience member; you are part of the Game. In exchange for living in the house for free, the young couple have agreed that they will be used as target practice: punters will pay to stalk them the other side of the one-way glass and shoot them with darts that render them unconscious. A disturbing concept.
As you watch punters visit and take their shots – a posh passive aggressive married couple, a drunken hen do – it feels disconcertingly realistic. Distastefully voyeuristic. I’m not a prudish person, but I turned away from televised scenes of the young couple having sex. I didn’t want to be on the same side of the glass as the punters. And I certainly didn’t want to be on the other. The play lasts a short sharp one hour, after which I was physically shaky. Bartlett, and the excellent performances by the actors, place you shoulder-to-shoulder with those exploiting this couple’s economic plight. As a friend said, she felt ‘dirty’ afterwards.
Though a powerful and affecting play, Game does suffer from an underdeveloped narrative arc, which left me wanting a stronger resolution. But perhaps being deeply moved not only by what I saw, but also what I experienced sat in that hide, is dramatic success enough.
Game, by Mike Barlett is on at the Almeida Theatre until Saturday 4th April.