John Conway’s revolutionary ’70s Game of Life, a mathematical model that demonstrates emergence and spontaneous order from cells obeying simple rules, is said to have inspired this production. But here is one other game of life noted on Wikipedia. In 1860 Milton Bradley created America’s first popular board game ‘The Game of Life’, its description reads: ‘The game simulates a person’s travels through his or her life, from college to retirement, with jobs, marriage, and possible children along the way’.
This production is created by Cambridge physics graduate and Lecoq-trained director Russell Bender and Rose Lewenstein of the Royal Court supergroup played out on a set that is a distant corner of a giant ‘Go’ board at London’s best new fringe theatre The Yard. It reminds us that Bradley’s formula for life is, whilst still relevant, the stimulus for a cacophony of confusion in a modern world both liberated and entombed by ideas and technology.
Tom (Nicholas Karimi) is Isabel’s secondary school biology teacher fascinated by ants and Dawkins, unable to commit to his girlfriend in church and caught in the clutches of anti-depressants. His girlfriend (Stephanie Thomas) is caught in the clutches of her iPhone, her flirtatious online identity and desire to ‘live in the moment’, and ultimately the ‘I do’ moment in front of a vicar.
Autistic Isabel played by Kate Mayne, together with her mother Caroline (Catherine Cusack), is coping with the death of her father and the impossibility of comprehending that loss. Her, at times, haunting search for meaning lead her to the man upstairs, Gregory (Richard Clews), a mathematics professor and recluse who, following the death of his mentor, is working on a revolutionary railway model for the United Kingdom. Isabel hates school and finds it impossible to relate to her friends (who only talk of sex and clothes which she points out is odd ‘because you can’t have sex with your clothes on’) shares some touching moments with Gregory as they learn about mathematics, swearing and the loss of their fathers together.
All the characters are beautifully crafted. Richard Clews’s old hermit is wonderful and special mention should be given to Kate Mayne who never fails to bring each moment to life. She discovers a raw beauty in a young teenager trapped inside autism, society’s boundaries and emotional loss.
The scenes are interwoven by an exceptional script, the lines of one character seamlessly flow into others and Russell’s intelligent choreography makes for a powerful complimentary narrative, aided by some very complex and reflective lighting design and music. The characters like Conway’s cells combine to form intricate patterns both physically and emotionally whilst moving between the squares of the set.
This is a contemporary play that weaves together complex and intricate ideas about mathematics, free will, autism, God and what it means to struggle with our feelings in the creative and well-meaning world of east London. It may be that we are like colonies of ants and bees all subject to simple rules and instructions that we can’t see or understand, or maybe that those give rise to spontaneous order, patterns, and perhaps life itself, or that the search for meaning may well be in vain but as Isabel points out there is something ‘magical’ about all that. As an ensemble this group have captured some of that magic.
Game of Life runs until September 22 at:
The Yard Theatre
Tickets cost £9
Image courtesy of Mila Sanders