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Review Round-up: Almeida's Games a Winner?

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Only a few months after staging Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, the Almeida theatre has again turned to the big screen for its latest production, Richard Bean’s adaptation of David Mamet’s 1987 film House of Games.

The play, which premiered last week (15 September 2010, previews from 9 September) stars Nancy Carroll as psychoanalyst Margaret Ford, who attempts to cure her patient Mike of his gambling addiction by accompanying him to a game in a bar. The original low-budget thriller starred Joe Mantegna as Mike and Mamet’s own wife, Lindsay Crouse, as Margaret.

Carroll, who recently drew critical acclaim for her role in After the Dance at the National, is joined in the cast by Michael Landes, Amanda Drew, Peter De Jersey, John Marquez, Trevor Cooper, Dermot Crowley and Al Weaver.

Directed by Lindsay Posner, who is well known for his previous work with Mamet plays, House of Games continues until 6 November.

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) – "David Mamet’s 1987 movie House of Games is one of the modern cinema’s psychological thriller greats. It’s also mysterious and sometimes impenetrable. Richard Bean’s new stage adaptation is true but different, gripping but transparent, and full of genuine stage thrills ... Lindsay Posner’s production, on a superb split-level design by Peter McKintosh, with a Ry Cooder-ish spooky guitar score by Django Bates, mixes Mamet’s aggressive swagger with Bean’s satirical cheek ... The central, sexually charged, sting between Nancy Carroll’s sensual, sucked-in psychologist Margaret Ford and Michael Landes’s charismatic Mike has a wonderful new twist on it, though the set-up with Al Weaver’s needy dope head is the same."
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (two stars) – "The Almeida seems obsessed with making plays out of movies ... But Richard Bean's version of House of Games, a flawless 1987 film written and directed by David Mamet, is a pointless exercise ... Mamet's movie depended on mystery and the spectator's willingness to see things from Margaret's point of view: we were as fascinated as she was by this murky milieu. But Bean's play is radically different. We view the heroine and the con men objectively, and are asked to find the latter faintly comic ... Nancy Carroll is plausible as the analyst forced to confront her compulsions, Michael Landes invests Mike with sinister charm, and Al Weaver is suitably wild as the patient whose predicament lures the heroine into new territory ... What I'm saying is blindingly obvious: that plays and movies operate in different ways ... Why go and see House of Games when you can rent the video?"
  • Libby Purves in The Times (four stars) – "Never having seen the original Mamet film, I was innocent of the fiendish switchback of deceptions to come. But even if I had expected the second twist, the third, the reverse con and the black-hearted retrospective emotional foldback, the pleasure of this non-stop hundred-minute ride would still be intense ... Making a film into a play may seem a redundant exercise, but the immediacy of theatre adds an edge: we watch in real time as actors - pretending - play the part of people pretending to be pretending , or possibly not. The layers of deceit convey a pleasing giddiness; Django Bates’s dirty, twangingly distorted electric guitar riffs add to the lowlife glamour, and the script is sharp as a shoeful of tacks."
  • Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (three stars) – "As Margaret’s fortunes fluctuate, director Lindsay Posner maintains a keen pace, and Peter McKintosh’s design creates a suitably dense atmosphere. Bean preserves Mamet’s fine sense of the tricksters’ bristling patter. But he has taken considerable liberties with the original screenplay ... The trouble is, we lose the intensity and clinical storytelling of Mamet’s film. Events are framed too prosaically, and plausibility is stretched. Why is Margaret’s office so modest, and would she really carry a cheque book around with her? Are con artists, once they’ve completed their con, quite so crass when divvying up their spoils? The performances are assured, with some nice work in the smaller roles by Peter De Jersey, Amanda Drew and Trevor Cooper ... It’s Nancy Carroll, though, who has to dominate as Margaret ... But for all her qualities, she doesn’t feel right for the role, and this is symptomatic of a production that contains good things yet never exerts a strong grip."
  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) – This is the second film adaptation the Almeida has presented this year, following a stage version of Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, and part of me regards the practice as something of a cop-out on the part of its director Michael Attenborough, who surely ought to be commissioning new plays rather than reviving old movies. Resistance, however, proves futile, for Richard Bean’s adaptation and Lindsay Posner’s gripping, superbly acted production prove far better value than the original picture ... Nancy Carroll is much more compelling in the role, while Richard Bean proves far more generous with the jokes than Mamet without sacrificing the required edge of menace ... Even if you have seen the film, this theatrical House of Games will keep you hooked."
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