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£¥€$ (LIES), Almeida Theatre review - financial frolics at the gaming table | reviews, news & interviews

£¥€$ (LIES), Almeida Theatre review - financial frolics at the gaming table

£¥€$ (LIES), Almeida Theatre review - financial frolics at the gaming table

Ontroerend Goed's latest offers a cunningly immersive take on capitalism

Dealer's choice: the gaming tables on view at (LIES)Thomas Dhanens

Theatre critics tend not to experience an 140 percent increase in their financial assets within 21 minutes. So on that remarkable front alone, the London premiere of the Belgian £¥€$ (LIES) is giddily immersive fun, at least up until such time as the Ontroerend Goed production shifts gears and sends the financial world, and our momentary prosperity, crashing down.

Staged within an Almeida Theatre transformed for the occasion to accommodate gambling tables instead of rows of seats, the show is certainly cheaper than a trip to Vegas and contains a lot more cautionary oomph. 

By their own standards, this latest venture is tamer than, say, the same theatre collective's interactive Audience, which shocked you guessed it the audience at Edinburgh in 2011 and elsewhere. But if (LIES) makes it clear throughout that its numbers-heavy landscape constitutes a performative lark, the production nonetheless makes for an apt companion piece of sorts to, say. the National's current smash hit, The Lehman Trilogy, or such recent New York entries as Ayad Akhtar's finance-themed play, Junk. Nick Mattan's design for (LIES) at the AlmeidaThe vocabulary deployed by a creative team that brings together a 13-strong cast under the direction of Alexander Devriendt won't be new to devotees of films like The Big Short; the difference here comes from inhabiting that world for yourself, at least for two interval-free hours. Within minutes of taking our seats at one of 10 casino-style tables playgoers who arrive in pairs are separated, and rightly so  we're learning about financial shorts and bubbles and fractional reserve banking, whatever that may be, whilst a central column tracks the various ratings of the ever more competitive teams – several of which, before the night is over, will need bailing out. (Pictured above, Nick Mattan's set)

"Cape Ka is booming," our sleek, calmly spoken croupier (Dutch performer Hannah Boer) informed my table-mates and me, as we watched our rating grow from an A- to an A+, all the while swapping bonds and doing our best to avoid the charges of tax evasion that had beset a neighbouring team. Aphorisms abound ("if you want the golf course, you've got to cut the forest"), but such remarks soon give way to ramped-up music and a gathering anxiety as the stakes are amplified and more than one table is plunged into darkness. 

Come the finale, and we're left mostly counting our losses and pondering a newly sobering landscape that has seen the players' confidence topple and trust erode alongside it. Participants get back the initial investment they are encouraged at the start to place in the envelope before them, but the take-away from the evening is a climate where risk prevails over results and where the frequently spoken exhortation to "roll your dice" comes to seem less an invitation than a threat. Fun and games? Sure, up to a point, but anyone who fails to clock the recklessness on view is surely living a lie. I watched at my table as 10 million became 45 million and then it all went to pot; ah well, it was nice while it lasted.

The frequently spoken exhortation to 'roll your dice' comes to seem less an invitation than a threat


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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