Online – Zoom
Pen and paper, a bucket full of water, a piece of fruit and three shots of a disgusting – albeit not toxic – liquid are the necessary props to take part in The House Never Wins, Kill The Cat’s interactive show in these times of social distancing. A good internet connection, Zoom and WhatsApp accounts are also essential, the means for the performance to reach audiences in the comfort of their own home.
The format is simple. The underlying message resounding. It’s delivery fascinating. Starting with ten chips each, seven participants are invited in turns to the table for a hand of Blackjack, whilst the others watch on. The Dealer summons them following criteria that feels hardly random. As the game unfolds, new rules are introduced allowing players to make decisions over their own fate, as well as that of others.
Together with a pursuit for individual gain, all participants, on and off the table, are called to make anonymous contributions to keep the House afloat. A minimum of 15 chips is required for the House to function at its full potential, but, with the players unable to communicate with each other, this target may or may not be attained. If the House goes down, the game is over.
Throughout the game, an overload of messages is sent over WhatsApp, making it hard to maintain focus on the table. Its relentlessness and randomness comparable to that of modern advertising.
At the core of the performance is the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”, a concept formalised in the 1950s by Albert W. Tucker. This paradox suggests that each participant can obtain a maximum reward only if everyone chooses to cooperate. However, if anyone opts for betrayal, everyone else suffers a loss, whilst the betrayer still gains. Unaware of what the others are going to do, betrayal is a rather tempting option.
Part interactive game, part political experiment, The House Never Wins lays all its cards on the table, when, at the end of proceedings, a recorded message urges everyone to take action against timely issues like sustainability and climate change. After 90 minutes in which survival is granted by cooperation but money is made at the detriment of others, participants benefit from unfair rules whilst blindly following the Dealer’s commands, this call for a “total change of the old” is a tad too explicit.
Overall, it is a fresh and fun show that works as well remotely as it would with everyone sat around the same table. Masterfully embracing the power of modern technology to overcome the current challenges that are threatening the existence of live performing arts.
Written and Directed by: Dylan Frankland and Madeleine Allardice
Produced by: Kill the Cat Theatre and Turtle Key Arts
Booking Information: This show has completed its current run.