Tristan Bates Theatre presents GAME THEORY by Odessa Celt: Theatre Review

In the press release for Game Theory, director Lois Jeary cites what first appealed to her about these plays: ‘[It was] because of the human stories and relationships that underpin the drama. Yet I was also fascinated by what motivates a woman to have her hymen reconstructed, or how much I would want to know about my child’s life before it had been lived.’ It is this dual appeal of storytelling and science that attracted a varied pool of seasoned theatre-goers and intrigued medical students to the Tristan Bates Theatre on Wednesday night.

Odessa Celt’s Game Theory is a double-bill of short plays following two conflicted couples as they analyse the ethics of two divisive medical procedures. In Membrane, the headstrong Halima (Nadia Shash) discusses the possibility of hymenoplasty with her plastic surgeon and former boyfriend, Paul (Andrew Pugsley). She is to be married and it is an important element of her culture that she bleeds on her wedding night when giving her virginity to her new husband, so she approaches Paul about having her hymen reconstructed to increase the chances of this happening. She tells Paul: ‘I gave you my virginity – now I want you to give it back.’ This incenses Paul, who still loves Halima, as her words imply that he took her virginity without her giving it freely. They embroil themselves in a war of gender politics, cultural rifts and clashing ethics, with Halima insisting she’s doing this to take ownership of her body while Paul condemns her for conforming to the customs of her faith and deceiving her fiancé. The two venomous phases of Paul and Halima’s argument are interrupted by a very poignant monologue scene from Paul’s wife, Jo (Georgina Blackledge), delivered in the form of an academic lecture about the psychology of deception.

In Mutiny, Emma (Georgina Blackledge) has given birth to a healthy baby boy after suffering both a miscarriage and stillbirth in the past. Charlie (Andrew Pugsley) wants to learn about their child’s genome sequence so that they can prepare for any medical issues their son may develop, from allergies to cancer. Emma thinks this is playing God, or ‘fortune-telling’, and believes it’s a choice the boy should make himself when he’s old enough. The central theme of Mutiny is our craving for knowledge, and how this shows both the best and worst of humanity. Medical science has come so far now that more people are surviving cancer, those with HIV are living longer and IVF procedures can give desperate couples the gift of parenthood. But if there is such thing as a dark side to medical science, then Mutiny shows it to us. It asks questions regarding where we draw the line between protection and control, and how much we should interfere with the future. Emma and Charlie’s arguments are both entirely valid and come from a place of immense love for their son; Charlie wants to ‘shield [him] against the dangers that lie ahead’ but Emma just wants to enjoy whatever time they have together without restriction or worry.

There is no way I can justify not awarding Game Theory five stars. The emotional authenticity of Celt’s characters and the profundity of their arguments, in their interrogation of modern medical practice and its effect on our personal relationships, is clear and clever. Celt has obviously done her research but neither play groans under the weight of it, with no extraneous medical jargon or sermon. Instead, the plays present convincing and thoughtful cases for each counter-argument and lay the groundwork for audiences to take their own stance on the issues involved. Andrew Pugsley, Nadia Shash and Georgina Blackledge give strong performances in both Membrane and Mutiny, with varied characterisation and intensity. The plays achieve what they set out to achieve and much more besides, evoking some big questions about the power of knowledge, freedom of choice and medical science’s ability to deceive. But you don’t have to be a scientist or a theatre-lover to appreciate Game Theory – you just have to be human.

© Hannah Roe, 2015


GAME THEORY by Odessa Celt

Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower St, Covent Garden, WC2H 9NP

7.30pm / 3pm

Closes 18th April

Running time: 90 min, including 15 min. interval

Tickets: £12 / Concessions £10

Phone: 020 7240 6283


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