A Game of You

'A Game of You' presented as part of the Ontroerend Goed Trilogy.

'A Game of You' presented as part of the Ontroerend Goed Trilogy.

One inevitably comes to the third part of a trilogy with expectations. But of what? In Smile Off Your Face, Charlotte lay beside me on a bed and whispered intimately in my ear. In Internal, Aurélie gazed lovingly into my eyes, exposed her breasts and then took my contact details. (I could barely write straight.) Really, the trajectory to be completed by A Game of You seemed like it might be toward the scarcely legal. And ain’t I the disgusting old lecher for even thinking that?

That’s what Ontroerend Goed does with its immersive theatre, full of direct one-to-one and many-to-one engagement with the audience. All the questions I asked on the way out of each of their shows (shows?) were about myself: my actions, my reactions, my expectations, my ‘performance’; literally, my character. Well, not quite all: I was also wondering, sort of, about other audience members. That woman I glimpsed on the bed with Charlotte as I was wheeled out of Smile Off Your Face, my blindfold lifted and the space suddenly revealed – did her posture suggest she was frightened, or worse, by this sudden closeness with a stranger? (I wasn’t.) That nice gentleman who responded to Maria’s dreamlike flirtation in Internal with constant references to his wife – is anyone really that loyal? (I wasn’t.) Those sensible young wans who saw my eyes light up at the sight of Aurélie’s ample bosom – did they think I was an utter creep? (Maybe I was.) As one performer said directly to me, and I guess to everyone else: “This is not about me, it’s about you.”

'Internal' presented by Ontroerend GoedIt was only several days after experiencing the sensual joy of the first of the trilogy, the Smile just about gone Off my Face, that I wondered critically about the makers and ‘actors’ of these shows, behind admiration for the stamina with which they endured rapid serial relationships with the audience: were they, these attractive young Belgians of both sexes, mocking us for the ease with which in half-hour immersions we could be made to feel ourselves engaged in acts of self-exploration, intimacy, transformation, love? After the speed-dating Internal, I grew more confident that the answer to this question was Yes.

The title alone of A Game of You might suggest confirmation. I imagine, probably wrongly, that ‘a game of you’ is a Flemish idiom partly lost in translation, like the marzipan pigs in Smile Off Your Face that I didn’t know until afterward were Belgian Christmas specialities. I feel, somehow, that it translates into Hiberno-English as ‘a skit of you’ – as in, that’s what they made of me with this production. They made a skit of me.

I’m not complaining, exactly. Once I had refixed my jaw, which dropped to the floor over the course of the performance, I was able, for the first time in the whole trilogy, to stand back and say: Yes, what an interesting and fruitful and cleverly designed acting exercise, what a wonderful ‘space’ for these fine performers to inhabit, a real drama-school-opens-its-doors-to-the-public experiment. And I was also able to say, for the first time in the whole trilogy: I think I’m sorry I walked into it.

It wasn’t (just) that my amorous trajectory was broken. (There is a sort of auto-eroticism potentially at play here, but little more.) Like its predecessors, A Game of You ingeniously exploits our rather sweet and amazing willingness as audience members to try to be honest, to be ourselves, to go with the flow, to trust – but this time the emphasis is on the word ‘exploits’.

I fully realise that, with 200 words to go, I have already set a world record for occurrences of the first-person pronoun in a review. And that I haven’t described A Game of You at all. These facts are, I promise, neither accident nor indulgence. If you must know, this half-hour show involves going from tiny room to tiny room, spending time with yourself and others. No two people will have the same experience.

More than that I wouldn’t like to say, except that, as should be clear by now, it has a tail that keeps on stinging. If even one person reading this were deprived of the full dosage of neurotoxins because of something I wrote, I would not only feel like a spoiler, I would begrudge it.

It seems Ontroerend Goed are destined to be the epitome of “I can’t tell you, you had to be there.” (That’s if my efforts to explain the wondrous intensity of their shows to people who swore they weren’t going to be there are any indication.) But let me try one last time: A Game of You is brilliant, fascinating, alienating, challenging and revelatory – to a fault.

Harry Browne

  • Review
  • Theatre

A Game of You by Ontroerend Goed

13 - 17 Oct 2010

Produced by Ontroerend Goed
In Smock Alley Theatre

Created by Alexander Devriendt, Joeri Smet, Sophie De Somere, Nicolaas Leten, Maria Dafneros, Charlotte De Bruyne, Aurélie Lannoy, Kristof Coenen & Eden Falk.

Presented as part of the Ontroerend Goed Trilogy also featuring The Smile Off Your Face and Internal.