Review – House of Games, Almeida

Michael Landes (Mike). Photo: Simon Annand
A psychiatrist visits a gambling den on behalf of one of her patients and falls in with a gang of crooks who on a long con. But who is conning who?

This is a place where truth is relative, where one deception feeds another, where loyalties peel like onion skins. All is not as it seems at The House of Games. There are more questions than answers.

These are my questions:

Why are all the plot twists in this production so clumsily signposted ahead of time?

Why don’t any of the characters behave in a believable fashion at any point?

Why can’t even the wonderful Nancy Carroll or the charming Michael Landes wring a convincing or sympathetic character out of the script?

Why didn’t I stay in and watch Simon Russell Beale in Spooks?

Given con artists are so genuinely fascinating in their own right (Cf. Catch Me If You Can, Matchstick Men, The Hustle, The Real Hustle, etc, etc) how does this play manage to make the cons so formulaic, obvious and uninteresting?

Why has the play, which is obviously an 80s period piece, been so clumsily updated? Why shoe-horn in lame jokes about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin (the actor’s black and the actress is a woman so they’re like Barack Obama and Sarah Palin – that’s the joke; no really, that’s the joke) yet leave in so much Mamet arcania? (“Valise”? Please)

Was the ending supposed to be meta-theatrical? Was it supposed to be one last final twist we hadn’t seen coming? Do you think, in fact, that everybody saw it coming?

Does this play think it’s a lot cleverer than it is?