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Playing Cards 1: Spades – Roundhouse, London

Writers: Sylvio Arriola, Carôle Faisant, Nuria Garcia, Tony Guilfoyle, Martin Haberstroh, Robert Lepage, Sophie Martin, Roberto Mori

Director: Robert Lepage

Reivewer: Seb de Montmorency


A new Robert Lepage show is always considered as something of an event, the visionary director has a creative ambition which is frequently epic in scale as with his newest show which is the first in a planned sequence of four. Inspired by the suits in a deck of cards, first up is Playing Cards 1: Spades at the Roundhouse in Camden, marking the first time he has conceived one of his stage shows in the round.

And in Jean Hazel’s often breath-taking design, it really is a spectacularly well-mounted production. Sets emerge from the depths of the ever-revolving circular drum, props descend gracefully from above, performers appear as if from nowhere via lifts, trapdoors and all manner of ingenious stage trickery. The logistics of such an endeavour are mind-boggling and it is only right that the stage crew are brought out for their own curtain call.

But dramatically, it doesn’t possess quite the same wondrous quality. Set in Las Vegas as the US are about to invade Iraq in 2003, disparate stories are brought together from the heat of the Nevada desert to the empty glitz of gaudy hotels as a wide range of characters deal with the trials of their lives, many of them centring on gambling and chance but also on a wider human weakness in the grand scheme of life.

The cast of six are excellent as they whirl around a vast number of characters with skill and clear delineation and an inter-connectedness of sorts between the stories does come through, but it isn’t one of any real substance as the emphasis is on a more dream-like state of contemplative mystery. Which would be fine but for the pace of Spades lingering a little too lethargically, especially since its 2 and a half hours are played without interval.

Runs until 2nd March

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