House of Games

Based on the screenplay by David Mamet; story by David Mamet and Jonathan Katz; stage version by Richard Bean
Almeida Theatre

House of Games production photo

Michael Attenborough had seemingly pulled off a coup with House of Games by creating a dream team of David Mamet, director Lindsey Posner who is something of a specialist when it comes to his work and Richard Bean, not to mention a top notch stage cast.

Mamet has long enjoyed creating pieces about cons of every type, certainly going back to his early play The Shawl and repeated frequently on stage and screen since. Indeed, House of Games first saw the light of day as a film starring Joe Mantegna and Mamet's wife Lindsay Crouse back in 1987.

The risk with cons is that audience members come to expect and see through them. That is certainly the case here, where a wafer-thin plot contains no surprises and the evening's success is reliant on other factors.

House of Games opens in the office of Nancy Carroll's Margaret Ford, an attractive psychiatrist who is treating her troublesome client Billy Hahn, an addict. His main vice might be gambling but sex and drugs are competing hard for the accolade.

Billy entices repressed Margaret into a seedy Chicago basement bar called the House of Games, where she is rooked but sees through it. In no time, in every sense of the phrase she is getting into bed with the leading con artist Mike, played by super handsome American actor Michael Landes,.

Together with the rest of the crew, they set out to sting a pair of out-of-town bankers. By this stage, Margaret is on board as an observer, ostensibly to find material for a second best-selling book. To say much more would be to give away some not very subtle subtleties.

For those that can buy into the plot, House of Games might have an added dimension. Otherwise audiences will at least get to enjoy a stream of often funny jokes and some nice cameos from talented character actors, of whom John Marquez as dippy Hell's Angel Bobby and Al Weaver playing hyper Billy both offer great value.

Playing until 6 November

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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