Review: Games for Lovers (The Vaults)

Ryan Craig’s new play opens underneath Waterloo Station

The cast of Games for Lovers
The cast of Games for Lovers
© Geraint Lewis

Logan and Martha, long term schoolfriends turned post-schoolfriends, have a will-they / won't-they / not-the-right-time-y sort of non relationship. Logan and Jenny, on the other hand, are getting serious – they're moving into a London pad together. But Jenny might be having an affair, and Logan might really be into Martha. Meanwhile, Martha has a new flatmate – Logan's friend and a self confessed and almost insufferably overconfident high flying player Darren. Meticulously, within the first ten minutes of Ryan Craig's new play, the pieces are in place for an energetic comedy romp.

The cast bounds across Simon Scullion's traverse stage, which looks like a more intimate version of the 50:50 set like infantile players skipping around some energetic gameshow. It all starts blithely, with some funky musical interludes (sound by Ben and Max Ringham), snappy scenes and choreographed fun. It's a shame, then, that this initial momentum never really carries through.

Games for Lovers has a good stab at dissecting heterosexual relationships, but it's all rather thin and Craig sacrifices decent characterisation and deconstruction for the sake of a few gags. He relies too heavily on the titular 'games' – characters playing card games, banter-ful wordplay games and alcohol-fuelled party games – to drive the action, rather than letting the scenes and dialogue flow naturally.

There are flashes of hilarity – Logan's jerky monologue about Calvinism while being given oral sex is particularly funny. But the laughs dry up and it's left to a well acquitted cast (Billy Postlethwaite has oodles of fun turning Darren into more than just a hammy caricature) to see through an overly long two-hour runtime. A punchier one-act four-way romantic quadrangle would have landed much more effectively.

The show's programme charts the history of romance from the 1700s to the present day, describing a 21st century world full of apps, swipes, filters and awkward glances. But Craig's play feels firmly stuck in the late 90s – there are only passing references to oddball Tinder dates, played for laughs rather than anything meatier. This is a trope-heavy piece about casual drinks, falling for housemates and crushes on co-workers. Like an ode to every Richard Curtis script without the same endearing charm.

There definitely is a need for a play examining the nature of modern love, where cyber communication can make people feel both closer to others and lonelier than ever. But Games for Lovers isn't that show. With a half hearted final scene that feels seemingly inspired by a Love Island episode, it's all just a bit basic.