You Game at RADA Studios
How do you take a nearly 50-year-old Tony Award-winning play and reinvigorate it for 2019? Sam Ra’s You Game, based on Anthony Shaffer’s 1970 hit Sleuth, answers with aplomb. This is a snappy, energetic production that successfully exploits a gender twist.
Ra recasts the character of Milo Tindle (famously played by Michael Caine in the 1972 film and Jude Law in the 2007 remake) as Bella Lanson. An aspiring actor, Bella is invited over to successful screenwriter Jack Guest’s flat in Holland Park for cocktails and chat one evening. However, as Bella is also Jack’s wife’s lover, it’s all passive aggression beneath the casual exchanges on their career highlights and favourite movies. Jack engages Bella in a robbery ruse that will settle things between them. But who is playing games with whom?
The gender swap provides this adaptation of Shaffer’s two-hander with a very topical edge. While the original dynamic took place between a pair of raging male egos, one young and one old, Ra brings forward the offstage, silent feminine in Shaffer’s play to act against the misogynistic and overcompensating masculine. The writer also updates Shaffer’s meta-commentary on mystery fiction through a pointed deconstruction of the male action hero and its accompanying cinematic male gaze. While Ra’s changes chime with the current cultural climate, which is shifting against these conventions and exposing male predatory behaviour more overtly, the playwright remains faithful to the spirit and structure of Shaffer’s text.
Alice McCarthy (Bella) and Ivan Murphy (Jack) speed effortlessly through the lively interplay. Their chemistry is playful yet barbed. Murphy bounds around Louis Carver’s dark and suggestive set design in sheer narcissistic glee. He’s humorous yet loathsome in his total lack of self-regard. While Murphy’s deliberate upstaging detracts from McCarthy’s cleverly cautious performance during the first act, her turning the tables in the second is a rebalance delicious to behold. Matthew Bosley’s direction injects their repartee with a physicality that energises these confrontations.
You Game only struggles when it tries to suggest the serious consequences in each twisted revelation. As the tone shifts from witty jabs (which don’t always land) to fatal disquiet, the campy delivery and unsubtle pronouncements undercut any intended tension. However, Ra’s adaptation is still a fresh, smart take on an old classic. Be game for it.
Photos: Peter Breen
You Game is at RADA Studios from 26th November until 30th November 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.