Silver Thread Productions
The Dice House
Written by Paul Lucas
Directed by Stephen Glover
Hen & Chickens Theatre
13 – 31 Jan 09
A review by Tim Jeeves for EXTRA! EXTRA!
I really like The Dice Man. And I’m not alone. Quentin Tarantino, The Aphex Twin and The Fall have all referenced it in various ways. George Cockcroft’s remarkable book (written under the pen name of Luke Reinhart) about the development of a school of psychiatry in which the ego, and all accompanying anxiety, is freed through complete surrender to chance is a remarkable piece of fiction.
And so I had high hopes for the latest revival of The Dice House, Paul Lucas’s tribute to the original book, which expands on the book’s original dice houses – psychiatric retreats where “The dice are God” – by placing the events of the play within one of them.
And there is lots to like within the play. For one thing, the acting is generally very good. Neal Foster is wonderful as Dr Drabble, the jealous rival to Dr Ratner who runs the dice house, whilst a wonderful surreality is created through the conjunction of the text, the physicality of the performers and Emma Pile’s set with its hanging picture frames, chalkboard scrawlings and scattered board games.
But don’t come to the Hen and Chickens expecting to witness a sequel of sorts to Reinhart’s book. The humour of the original, as Reinhart himself writes on his website in endorsement of the play, has been well captured by Lucas, but unfortunately the subtlety of the underlying philosophy has been missed and when theory does come up, it feels rushed and more about plot development than any meaningful communication of ideas.
Admittedly, the characters are different, which could explain why Dr Ratner, the chief advocate of dice theory in the play, is so much less persuasive than Reinhart is in the book, but it is in precisely that persuasiveness that much of the magic of the original story lay. I didn’t come away from the theatre tonight thinking that my life might be improved if I adopted the dice philosophy. Unlike in the book, the world presented is simply too ridiculous to possibly exist.
The arguments against a total belief in psychiatry are maintained from Reinhart’s original, and the writing often gives rise to marvellously bizarre scenes of sharp dialogue – particularly entertaining was the declaration of love between two characters on the basis of a belief that they were together in a previous life as Dr Ratner enters in a PVC nurse’s outfit whilst Polly Drabble (wife of the aforementioned rival) lies gagged and bound at the top of the stage in a Twister board.
And perhaps that’s where both the problem and the wonder of the play lies. It is splendid entertainment – a fantastic farce for the 21st Century – though by referencing The Dice Man as it does, expectations are raised, and a frame is created which straightforward entertainment sadly isn’t able to fill.
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