Skin in the Game – Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer: Gill Kirk

Director: Sarah Gain

Coming swiftly on the heels of Scotland’s moment in the climate change spotlight, the timing could not be better for this new play to bring its message of environmentalism, social breakdown and state collapse to the world.

However, while the two-week Cop26 talk-fest at Glasgow involved twists, turns and complex political storytelling, the overall message, purpose and detail remained clear. We’ve no such luck here. Skin in the Game is set in an ill-defined post-apocalyptic future where the government has failed, leaving rich TV personalities to step in and save the population. In this world the geology of Westminster has somehow altered to the extent that the Houses of Parliament have been replaced by a waterfall, people can be kidnapped to a cave by mythical trolls and human sized bumblebees, and the vikings are threatening to make a comeback.

The general idea is that the most powerful of these television personalities, Danny, wants to set up a game show where people can compete via dangerous challenges for gifts from Danny to save the parts of the world they care about. One woman will, for example, win a prize of re-introducing robins to the country if she survives a night on a North Pole iceberg. However, former BBC journalist Elizabeth has plans to expose his plans to build a private army and tear down his empire, stopping his show and his grip over the population. When she gets kidnapped on a mountain by the troll and the bee and a horned being (Sexy Beast), her plans are delayed. She leaves captivity with a renewed focus, however, and fights to get her message out.

The unfortunate thing here is that there’s a range of smart ideas in here that could really resonate for a 2021 audience, but the delivery lets them down badly. It tackles areas like what happens when governments cannot handle a crisis and privately funded “philanthropy” steps in as infrastructure to civil society? Are the objectives of saving the human race and saving the world mutually exclusive? What could happen to us with a sea level rise of just a few metres (in the play Cardiff, Hull and other cities are gone, which is the predicted impact of a 2m rise in sea level)? But wrapped stiflingly around all this smartness are laboured lines and uncharismatic performances, dead end narrative threads, unanswered questions and exhausting dialogue.

Ultimately, it’s hard to decipher what this play is about. Power, social breakdown, climate change, mythology, mud-babies? It’s expressing anger at something and it feels it has a message to convey. Produced through staged readings, developed during an artist’s residency with Pitlochry Festival Theatre and making its debut here in Wimbledon as part of the theatre’s inaugural Premieres Season shows, it feels like it’s premature and could benefit from another dose of the editor’s pen.

Runs until 19 November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Confused and confusing

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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