Mike Bartlett is one of our most singularly arresting contemporary theatrical voices, as adept in plays that reconfigure theatrical spaces as they are in re-arranging and speculating on our future lives. His National Theatre play Earthquakes in London provided a seismic portrait of an impending climate apocalypse that was given a shape-shifting production that played in and around the audience on platforms that snaked amongst them. Cock, seen at the Royal Court, was a combative piece about a relationships in crisis, played out in the round of a specially built gladiatorial arena. And Bull, recently seen at the Young Vic after premiering at Sheffield's Crucible, was an office drama played out in a recreation of a boxing ring that was brutal and unforgiving.
Now he and his collaborators on this occasion - director Sacha Wares and designer Miriam Buether - provide the most startling and yet alienating play that implicates us directly and voyeuristically in the way it is played out. We are brought into an entirely unrecognisable Almeida Theatre, where we've been assigned seats in one of four partitioned, enclosed 'zones', to view, from behind gauze screens, a truly horrible game-play. A desperate young couple have been provided with a luxury home for free - but in return, people come to fire tranquillising darts at them in return for a fee.
It's a queasy portrait of human beings being used as commodities for other people's sadistic pleasure. And while its both distressing and discomforting to watch, it's also transfixing. It's like a cross between Big Brother and a seedy Soho sex show that makes us complicit in its horrors.
Just as The Nether recently showed us what living a virtual life in the internet may look like, Game shows us what real life could be reduced to in a dystopian future. Sacha Wares's astonishing production isn't fun to watch, but you don't want to look away either. And that's the ghastly point of this grimly gripping, but mercifully short, evening.
"But the format doesn’t allow enough scope to investigate the nature of the ersatz snipers, and the play offers more in the way of visceral thrills than genuine moral inquiry. There is no doubt we are disturbed, but to what purpose?"
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Mike Bartlett’s latest play is a dark, riveting drama packed with ideas, and it makes guilty peeping-toms of us all."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"A too-remorseful cop-out ending does almost nothing to lessen the shocking impact of these ideas. And yet I couldn’t look away."
Ian Shutterworth for The Financial Times
"But while Game is a substantial technical achievement, the premise does not feel boldly original. It strikes me as the kind of thing that might have been conceived by many a satirist."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard