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I was really hoping that this latest offering from the brilliantly innovative Quebecois auteur Robert Lepage would be one of the theatrical highlights of 2013, but although its 2 ½  hours (no interval) were never boring,  the words “Emperor” and “New Clothes” ultimately sprang to mind.

Planned as part of a series of four plays shaped around the suits of a deck of cards, it has perhaps suffered by taking collaborative writing too far, with the separate strands of the loosely interconnecting narrative proving insufficiently developed.

Staged in the round on a metre high platform with a rotating outer ring and a plethora of trapdoors, Spades conjures a diverse handful of visitors to the gambling mecca of Las Vegas in 2003 where (like the ill-matched, expectant Canadian couple) you can be married by an Elvis Presley impersonator and lose (or win) a fortune in moments.

It touches, too, on the lives of some of those who work there and on the coalition forces training in the Nevada desert on their way to Iraq.

The commendably versatile multinational cast, just half a dozen strong, brings a host of characters to life, some only briefly, while others - Tony Guilfoyle’s compulsive gambler attending a television sales convention in what is possibly the worst location in the world for him, Nuria Garcia’s efficient Mexican chambermaid whose health problems threaten to expose her illegal status – stay around long enough for us to become involved with their stories.

Though clever (and no doubt logistically challenging) the 360º staging isn’t yet as smooth as it could be and, as hotel bedroom gives way to a casino, a swimming pool or a bar, Lepage’s customary magic is too rarely in evidence.

Still, his work rarely stays static, so hopefully, by the time he’s completed the proposed tetralogy, this first section will have evolved into something which can stand alongside the innovative ambition and depth of his previous richly satisfying productions.

Chalk Farm Road NW1 8EH
Chalk Farm tubeUntil Sat March 2(£15 - £45)

Photo: David Levene


Theatre review: Playing Cards 1 - Spades at the Roundhouse
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