PLAYING CARDS 1 SPADES
by Sylvio Arriolo, Carole Faisant, Nuria Garcia, Tony Guilfoyle, Martin Haberstroh, Robert Lepage, Sophie Martin, Roberto Mori.
Roundhouse Chalk Farm Road NW1 8EH To 2 March.
Runs 2hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 8008.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 February.
Ideas in Spades, if not quite an ace.
It’s three decades since Robert Lepage began astonishing theatre audiences. He’s spending the fourth decade playing cards, creating four productions linked to the suits. First, in warlike mode, comes Spades.
As with previous shows, this 150-minute span interweaves several stories without comment. Set in Las Vegas, amidst Nevada’s desert where the US military practises, there’s TV footage of President George W Bush talking-up war in Iraq as soldiers exercise, while in a Vegas hotel an efficient housekeeper collapses with fear of illness and deportation, a couple are married by a lyric-quoting Elvis impersonator, and a compulsive gambler returns to the tables in desperate need of cash to pay a huge, pressing debt.
Las Vegas is the place where normality breaks down: into war, into fear, into the futility that sees winnings abandoned on an impulse and their owner take, naked, to the desert. Don’t ask why; what happens is what matters.
There’s also a lot that could be commercial movie material, all marked-out by Lepage’s cool style, and inventive staging. This is the piece in which he’s discovered theatre-in-the-round, which he calls “inventing a whole new kind of theatre”. Being in England should provide a good opportunity to explore this new kind of theatre in, for example, Scarborough, where theatre-in-the-round’s been produced since 1955, Stoke-on-Trent (1962), Richmond (1969) or Manchester (1976).
Lepage does things differently, of course. He’s not producing conventional plays, and for all his talk of contact between actor and audience in the Round the body-mikes employed create a sense of distance as well as intimacy. And he needs a raised stage to internalise the technology (more stage management figures rise for the curtain-call than actors). At his best he’s so good that anything less seems wearisomely routine. Or gauche. Wires stretched down naked backs are a given of close amplification. But a power-box nestling behind the buttocks is an intrusion stretching suspended belief.
It undermines at a fundamental level the metaphors and similes of Lepage’s work. Let’s hope he’s developed the language of theatre-in-the-round much more by the time he’s laid all his cards on the table.
Cast: Sylvio Arriolo, Nuria Garcia, Tony Guilfoyle, Martin Haberstroh, Sophie Martin, Roberto Mori.
Director: Robert Lepage.
Designer: Jean Hazel.
Lighting: Louis-Xavier Gagnon-Lebrun.
Sound: Jean-Sébastien Coté.
Music: Félix Dagenais.
Images: David Leclerc.
Props: Virginie Leclerc.
Costume: Sébastien Dionne.
Wigs: Rachel Tremblay.
Dramaturg: Peder Bjorman.
Assistant costume: Stéphanie Cleroux.