Back in the mists of time, relationships and love were two separate things. A match between and a boy and a girl would be arranged and terms agreed between the respective families and that was that. If the couple were lucky, they might, over the course of their life together, fall in love with each other but, if not, as long as the relationship was stable, everything was good. Nowadays, things are much more complicated. Singles bars, speed dating, apps and the various rules around dating, make finding the ‘right one’ more like work than fun. That’s the theory at the heart of Ryan Craig’s play Games for Lovers, receiving its world premiere at The Vaults Theatre.
In contemporary London, four millennials are searching for love, each using their own method to find what they seek. Radiologist Martha (Evanna Lynch) spends much of her time either pining over co-worker Dr Robert, or her best friend Logan (Calum Callaghan). For his part, PE teacher Logan is thinking of taking his relationship with feisty website designer Jenny (Tessie Orange-Turner) a step further. And Logan’s old college mate Darren (Billy Postlethwaite) when not working in the city is busy trying to use his exceptional skills at charming the fair sex into his bed for the night. After running into, and failing miserably, to chat up Martha – much to Logan’s amusement – Darren instantly forgets her until she turns up at his door as a potential housemate. The two of them move in together – Martha ignoring the many flaws in Darren’s personality as the house is cheap and close to work. At the same time, Logan gives Jenny a key to his house and she moves in with him. Darren decides it would be a good idea for him and Jenny to host a dinner party for Darren and Martha, where a ‘harmless’ after-dinner game threatens to bring up truths and lies better left unspoken.
Games for Lovers is an interesting play that which brings four very different characters together and, in a way, pits them against each other in a game of sexual and gender politics where, ultimately, I’m not sure anyone was the winner. For a play set in contemporary London, there were times where the dialogue and scenario felt rather dated. Whilst I was under the impression that in the twenty-first century guys like Logan and Darren should have gone the way of the dinosaur, I was assured by a female friend that they are still out there. In that case, all I can do is apologise on behalf of my gender. Neither guy is even marginally likeable really. Logan is uptight and suspicious – and I honestly didn’t understand why he and Jenny were together. I know opposites attract but this coupling just didn’t feel right. At the other end of the scale, Darren is arrogance personified with no charm and an attitude to women that seem to see them as the enemy needing to be conquered. However, and I almost hate myself for saying it, of all his terrible lines and ideas, I did love the “…….. you like me…” attempt at NLP. In fact, although both men appear totally different, they are actually much more similar in their attitudes than either would care to admit. For me, it felt that Jenny had a lot of potential but was underused as a character and I was really surprised at her reaction to events in the final scene. Martha was my favourite. A quiet, somewhat naive woman on the surface, Martha was actually the strongest of the four in my opinion. Her handling of Darren in both the bar and rent negotiation was excellent and felt very believable. And, although not going exactly as expected, I did get a warm fuzzy feeling inside at the end of Martha’s journey.
Whilst I had problems with some of the writing, I cannot fault the actors. All four portrayed their character really well, with particular credit going to Evanna Lynch as Martha and especially Billy Postlethwaite as Darren who is the epitome of everything negative about men on the dating scene. At times I was cringing in my seat observing him whilst many female members of the audience were nodding with recognition.
Director Anthony Banks really puts his cast through it with a lot of movement, dancing and even riding around Simon Scullion’s set on scooters. The set itself is an interesting mix of pastel shapes and objects that could be moved around to form various locations. My initial impression was that it felt almost like a studio set for a children’s television programme which considering the way people often seem to regress to juvenile antics when on the dating scene, would make sense. I would suggest putting some wheels under the massive triangles, as moving them across the stage looked like a lot of work for the actors. Matt Haskins’ Lighting along with Ben and Max Ringham’s Sound worked well to create a good atmosphere and accentuate the action.
How to sum up Games for Lovers? For me, it didn’t entirely work. Whilst the acting was first-rate, I didn’t really identify that much with the characters, apart from Martha, or the situations they got themselves in. There were a lot of really funny moments in the script, but some ideas and attitudes that seemed really anachronistic and I felt there were a lot of questions left unanswered at the end.
Review by Terry Eastham
Four millennials looking for sex, love and a well-located flat find themselves caught in a complex game of rivalry, desire and seduction. As the cost of happiness soars, how can they negotiate the new rules of modern relationships and win the game of love?
The brilliant cast is Calum Callaghan (Black Mirror and Mr Selfridge), Evanna Lynch (Disco Pigs in the West End, Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films), Tessie Orange-Turner (Masterpieces at the Finborough and Casualty) and Billy Postlethwaite (Chernobyl on Sky Atlantic, The Madness of George III at Nottingham Playhouse).
James Seabright presents
Games for Lovers
by Ryan Craig
The Vaults Theatre
London SE1 7AD
12 July -25 August 2019