Playing Cards 1: SPADES

Playing Cards 1: SPADES
Director: Robert Lepage
Writer: Sylvio Arriola, Carole Faisant, Nuria Garcia, Tony Guilfoyle, Martin Haberstroh, Robert Lepage, Sophie Martin, Roberto Mori
Cast: Sylvio Arriola, Nuria Garcia, Tony Guilfoyle, Martin Haberstroh, Sophie Martin, Roberto Mori
Part of: Wiener Festwochen (as the first part of the tetralogy Playing Cards)

[Trigger Warning]

Las Vegas. There are magicians, Elvis-themed weddings and business opportunities, but there’s also gambling, prostitution, violence, illegal immigration and poverty. So all in the same hotel, you get the young Canadian couple, spontaneously getting married. You get the British man who just overcame his gambling addiction, in town for a conference but hounded by his debts. You get the Danish soldier training in a fake Arabian village not far from Las Vegas where he’s raped by his superior who tries to get away for a weekend. And you have the maid, an illegal immigrant who is ill but can’t afford to go to a doctor.

Spades was pretty damn fantastic, though I do have a couple of reservations as well. But the stage design is absolutely brilliant, the acting is good and I was completely engaged the entire time. Maybe I should just get a Lepage4Eva* tattoo.


Probably the best thing, certainly the most outstanding thing about the play is the stage design: the stage itself is completely round, the audience sits all around it, the set pieces appear from and disappear into the floor, as do the actors. The outermost part of the stage revolves sometimes, parts of the stage get lifted up, parts get sunk down and it’s all combined with perfect lighting, directing your gaze to just the right part.

Now, the problem with circular stages is of course that somebody in the audience will always get the actor’s back only. But I don’t know if I was extremely lucky with my seat or (what’s probably more likely) they somehow managed to move around enough, but in any case, I never felt like I was missing any of the action or didn’t see something crucial that I should be seeing. Impressive logistics right there.


Since the form is that strong, it didn’t matter that much that the content, the stories told, are rather “been there, seen that”-y. Apart maybe from the soldier because I don’t think it’s that widespread knowledge that there’s international training in fake Arabian villages, sexual assault in the military is still a rather taboo topic and the ending wasn’t what you’d expect. Generally, the entire thing ended much more happily, especially for the women, than what I expected at first.

But my biggest issue with the play was the Native American character they included. At first I thought, awesome, they didn’t forget that there’s also Native Americans! Unfortunately he ended up being a clichéd noble savage, who goes around burying road kill and helping white dudes back into their mind with his wisdom. [SPOILER] I mean, it could very well be that he was supposed to be an angel, as the white magician turned out to be the devil/a demon. But even if you draw that parallel, it may explain why he’s so saintly, but this being all good thing is still shown through absolutely stereotypical images, so it doesn’t change much of anything. [/SPOILER]

Since the rest of the play was not racist, I could enjoy it despite that. And I did enjoy it a whole lot.

Playing Cards 1: Spades, by Robert Lepage, at the Roundhouse, London.

Summarising: Yes, see it!

*If anybody ever published Lepage’s plays as a book, I’d be so all over that.


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