The House Never Wins by Kill The Cat Theatre – ‘fantastically executed’

★★★★

9/10

Kill The Cat’s The House Never Wins entices from the get-go with its own intriguing promises of delivering ‘unparalleled sophistication’ and ‘interactive game theatre’. Its intelligent observations on the current climate crisis are clear from the start, as Dylan Frankland and Madeleine Allardice’s masterful dramaturgy weaves the audience along a deeply engaging path of darkly witty commentary, facilitation and game-play. It proves a perfect experience for all those currently feeling starved of innovative, exciting new fringe work by such well-respected UK artists.

This is a show for those who enjoy immersive theatre – participation is inescapable, and in many ways that seems to be the very point. To keep ‘The House’ alive, the audience have to gamble for its well-being – as we all do in reality for the planet, whether we realise it or not. The piece intoxicates you with its meticulously crafted competitive setup and, through this, makes you a near-selfish player in a game that only thinly veils its strong parallels to everyday life. Barrages of advertisements, messages, and questions flood your phone as you play the game using The House’s WhatsApp number and its dystopian Naive branding. The experience is somewhat overwhelming – as if deciding your next move in a game of Blackjack in front of twenty-plus total strangers doesn’t pile on the pressure enough already – and it is because of these mounting pressures that the production proves so impactful and immersive in equal measure.

Frankland and Allardice have refined their dramaturgy into a clear and distilled line of thinking – only gentle nods to the show’s subtext are required for the audience to fully grasp the underlying messages. What is also truly commendable is their use of Zoom, which proves utterly masterful, and for any participants unfamiliar with the programme, Frankland clearly talks the audience through its functionality at the beginning of the proceedings in a humorous, entertaining manner. Wonderfully creative uses of backgrounds and camera angles are also implemented throughout; the birds eye view of the card table is an inspired touch which makes the game far more interesting and accessible, especially for those less familiar with Blackjack itself (which, too, is explained with patience and clarity by Allardice’s quick-witted and composed Dealer). Both performers work truly convincingly in the context of the show as their stern casino-worker characters, and it is abundantly clear from this uniquely planned and fantastically executed production that Kill The Cat is an artistic duo capable of excellent theatre.

Perhaps the only criticism I would offer is that at times, as the audience member (or perhaps, just myself) focuses on the specifics of the literal card game, due to the inherent need to contribute to it, it becomes harder to pay attention to anything more, and thus all the wonderfully satirical and detailed adverts, news-flashes and even an offer of a Carbon offsetting scheme from ‘Brian Air’ that progressively ping onto your phone become harder to appreciate. Suddenly, the experience loses some of its depth and seems to become more simply just a card game, although still a very complex one. This is saved however by the frequent spoken reminders of The House’s health and new rules for the game, which reminds the participant of the context of events, bringing them back to earth. This curious effect that the game has, however, does somewhat contribute to its own dramaturgy – our own real-life house is genuinely burning, and grasping all the reasons why is nothing short of completely overwhelming, too.

The House Never Wins is a riveting and incredibly immersive experience which promises perfect lockdown entertainment for any artistically-deprived theatre enthusiasts. Whilst the competitive nature of the game itself weaves you in, the cleverly worded messages regarding fire, capacity and sustainability tell a much darker story of the time in which we currently live. We must all keep The House afloat; it is our duty.

The House Never Wins ran from the 12th-23rd of May 2020. It was produced by Turtle Key Arts. Visit Kill The Cat’s website here for details on upcoming work. 

– Toby Moran Mylett

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