During these unprecedented times, we are all actively encouraged to spread positivity and kindness in everything that we do by most parties, in the hope that we will all reach the end of this as a stronger, more unified people. No such message is preached by Exeter-based Kill The Cat Theatre Company in their existentially high-stakes, zoom-video-call game of blackjack in The House Never Wins, in which the player is encouraged to manipulate and gamble their way to the ‘jackpot’.
The House Never Wins utilises all of its very limited lockdown resources effectively, both on the performers’ side and the audience’s side. An elaborate list of props is sent to each audience member to be curated and used in the piece. While this feels absurd and unnecessary for a simple game of blackjack, the piece is self-aware and playful in how it communicates its urgent message while disguising itself as a harmless game night.
The synopsis of the piece mentions themes of climate change and natural disasters happening at the same time as the game, which suggests that the piece will be heavily focussed around these serious themes. Unfortunately, aside from the very end and a few references throughout, the message the company are trying to drive home is watered down to redundancy by the general silliness that they encourage in the game. It’s infectiously fun silliness, however it is just too attention consuming to focus on its larger objective.
Much like any table game at a casino, the dealer must always keep focussed and aware of everything that has going on. This can prove difficult without the addition of several unusual rules, and the dealer of this specific game is often overcome by this. Forgetting about rules that last the whole game when applied, asking for reminders of the game’s process from the contestants make the audience feel lost and confused, not only by the convoluted version of the previously-simple game. However, when the dealer is confident, they are hilariously deadpan and a great host.
While The House Never Wins does occasionally feel a little hard to follow, when everything runs smoothly, it really is great fun. And, as someone who definitely was more of a villain in their game plan, the various ways of playing the game give the audience a joyous sense of freedom that is rare in any theatre. And with the addition of various easter eggs and bonus opportunities being texted to you via WhatsApp, it feels very open ended in what the audience can take away from it, and doesn’t force the agenda down their throat.
The House Never Wins is both a pleasing distraction from what’s going on in the world right now, while also being a sobering reminder of it. It won’t be for everyone, but is a more than adequate substitute for those nights at the theatre that we miss so dearly.
Kill The Cat Theatre have partnered with regional theatres for a virtual ‘tour’ of The House Never Wins, you can find the schedule and details of how to book here.