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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Almeida Theatre, Novello Theatre


  Cast of House of Games/ Ph: Simon Annand

We say tomaytoes and they say tomahtoes. We spell it theater and they spell it theatre. We sit in the orchestra and they sit in the stalls. We have an intermission and they have an interval.
But we can't call the whole thing off because we speak the same language, almost, and because our mutual stage work keeps floating back and forth across the Atlantic. At times it seems there are almost more British plays on Broadway than there are American. And right now, for instance, there are almost as many American plays on West End stages as there are British. Among them, Chicago, Legally Blonde, The Country Girl, The Glass Menagerie, Dirty Dancing and Deathtrap.
In the same league of American export is David Mamet's House of Games, a movie he wrote and directed in 1987, which he and Richard Bean have now turned into a fast-paced, gripping pastiche of con games in which everybody involved is conning everybody else, one way or another. Typical of Mamet's style of slinging slang and his penchant for muscled machismo men, this group of con artists meets in a seedy downstairs bar to plot their next victim's fate: in this case a chic Harvard-educated psychiatrist, who is also the author of a best-seller on compulsion and obsession.
When a suicidal young male patient talks about his obsessive addiction to gambling and the fact that he owes huge sums of money to a conman he cannot repay, the therapist decides to confront his harasser by studying the art of the con.
Beautifully realized by the talented Nancy Carroll playing Dr Margaret Ford, she runs a gamut of emotions from the cool, confident professional. Taunted by her patient for not knowing the gritty side of life, she becomes seductively flirtatious when meeting the charismatic Mike, owner of the bar and chief of the foul-mouthed gang of con artists. He is effectively played by Michael Landis, in the tradition of a DeNiro or Pacino, as a man who always knows how to get what he wants.
What he wants this time is to lure Margaret into becoming their next patsy, and when what is happening slowly dawns on her in spite of their strong sexual attraction, she is both angry, fearful and ultimately vengeful, determined to beat the game-players at their own game.
Moving at rapid-fire pace, this 100-minute one-act, having its world premiere, keeps the audience riveted by breathtaking twists and turns in which each becomes both victim and tormentor. Wonderfully staged by director Lindsay Posner, at London's Almeida Theatre, the play is enhanced by its two-level set of the doctor's cool sleek office and the bar's grimy low-down ambiance. Django Bates' evocative bluesy electric guitar music effectively transitions the scenes and heightens the mounting sense of menace, grabbing the audience and not letting go.
A con artist of an entirely different stripe is the ruthless world powerhouse Aristotle Socrates Onassis whose incredible style and larger than life personality is given full-range in the fascinating new play Onassis on stage at the West End's Novello Theatre.
Embodied by award-winning actor Robert Lindsay (two Oliviers and a Tony among others), whose slim body and handsome face transform into the squat, homely, barrel-chested Onassis – his perpetual dark glasses barely hiding his incessant aggression while allowing him to study the next subject of his obsessive appetites – he becomes the definition of ego.

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