DramaImmersiveNorth WestReview

The Game – Contact, Manchester

Reviewer: Hannah Hiett

Devised with women formerly and currently working in the sex industry, The Game explores the act of buying sex – the rules, the language and the power structures.

The Game promises us ‘a real-life game, with levels and consequences.’ And, although some of the pageantry of a game show is here (the musical interludes, the faintly tyrannical hosts, the line-up of awkward contestants) the device sits uncomfortably around the serious material that is the heart of the show – a neat pun that that doesn’t quite come through in the structure of the piece.

Gemma Collins and Lauren Larkin ‘stand in’ for women who were and are experiencing what they choose to show us. Repeatedly we’re told ‘this isn’t happening to us, it’s happening to them’. It seems as though the intention here is to reassure the audience that everyone on stage is safe (and remind us that others, off-stage, are not).

Standing in for the men in these accounts are five Bambi-like boys, pale and clearly nervous under the scrutiny of the audience. ‘They’re here to help’ – we’re told ‘And they’re helping.’ The men don’t know what’s going to happen – they’re shown where they’re allowed to touch the women, they’re told what they’re allowed to say, they’re told how to respond to each situation as it arises and asked to cross boundaries of personal comfort on stage. At first it’s absurd, then deeply uncomfortable, as we begin to question whether we are still an audience… or simply voyeurs. The spectacle is humiliating, and the men accept their humiliation as though it were their due. It feels, a little, like revenge – by asking men to go through the motions of degrading women, by not inviting them to respond or react as they would choose to (except to say no or to leave) the men, too, seem degraded and objectified. It is troubling, and thought-provoking.

Credit is due for the range of female voices Larkin, Collins and director/co-devisor Grace Dyas represent in this work. Alongside the harrowing scenes of abuse and misery, there are women present here who enjoy their work, who believe it provides a real service and are keeping other women safe. However, it’s never quite clear when (and if) they are presenting the politics of the sex workers and former sex workers they worked with to create The Game, or whether these views are the artists’ own. It feels important to know.

However, The Game tries too hard to shock you into a moral standpoint – the visual metaphor of thigh-high-booted women prompting a quivering volunteer on his pre-scripted lines is all too pertinent to the audience experience – it has nuances that bear further exploration.

Ultimately, The Game leaves us with more questions than answers. It’s not a show to enjoy. It’s a show to think about, change your mind about, argue with yourself about and discover things  – about how you perceive the power dynamics between men and women, and about cruelty and its place in performance – that may shock you after all.

Reviewed on Wednesday 15 March 2017 | Image: Contributed

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. 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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