I came out from Spades unsure whether I had enjoyed myself or not. I had been quite absorbed for the duration of the piece (which at 2.5 hours with no break is saying something), but did not really feel myself moved. There was a lot of potential in the piece but to my mind it didn’t quite get there.
The production is the first of a series of four by director Robert Lepage, co-commissioned by an international group of circular venues. This global perspective was highlighted by the fact that only about a third of the dialogue was in English. French and Spanish featured heavily with surtitles provided. The story was set in an around a Las Vegas casino, telling intertwined stories of a French-Canadian couple visiting Vegas to be married by Elvis, Spanish and Danish coalition soldiers training in the Nevada desert, an English gambling addict and Mexican hotel maids. A cast of six played a total of about fifteen or so parts between them, performing convincingly enough that my companions and I were surprised to see so few people on stage for the curtain call.
Despite not having a production from Lepage before, I was aware of his reputation for clever staging and use of video projection. The latter if these was not in evidence, mainly one would suppose due to the restrictions of playing in the round. However the circular space was capitalised on, and indeed the production was a bit of a masterclass from a staging point of view; something I appreciate having trained and previously worked in technical theatre myself. Trapdoors and lifts on the circular stage become bedrooms, a swimming pool, casino and various other locations with the help of an army of stage management and crew, who popped up through the stage at the end to take their well-deserved curtain call alongside the performers.
Spades felt in many ways like a foreign-language art house film rather than a play. The whole thing felt very dark and the pacing incredibly controlled, slowing almost at a stop at one point which was rather brave. It almost worked, too. Overall, I found the production interesting and, despite not quite being able to say I enjoyed it, I think I shall be booking tickets for the next piece in the cycle.