Game Theory is a production of two plays by Odessa Celt – Membrane and Mutiny – about ethics and science. They are avowed think-pieces, and they hone in on two big topics: hymenoplasty and genome sequencing. The short running time and the straight-to-business nature of the shorts make this an attractive evening for people who like their theatre topical and argumentative.
Membrane sees Halima (Nadia Shash) approaching a specialist, Paul (Andrew Pugsley), to surgically restore her ‘virginity’ – the twist being that it was he that ‘took’ said virginity just before they went their separate ways to university. Her reasons for seeking the surgery – a wedding-night present for her husband-to-be and engaging in a patriarchal cultural expectation – are problematic, but she argues vehemently for her choice. The doctor’s resistance is more uncomfortable – he is clearly happy to perform the procedure on other patients, and so the back and forth quickly dives below the theoretical, and gets seriously personal. An engaging TED-like speech from the doctor’s wife (Georgina Blackledge) about whether smiling leads to happiness as much as happiness leads to smiling interrupts the pieces leading to some engaging daydreams about the real power of symbols as Paul prepares for Halima’s surgery in the second half of the play.
In Mutiny, the same cast return for the less argumentative but more suggestive second play – Emma (Blackledge) has given birth and Charlie (Pugsley) is looking over the genome sequencing literature (provided by the hospital along with all their documentation on a tablet). Emma, whose father has motor neurone disease, doesn’t want to find out anything that might be lurking in their newborn son’s genes, but Charlie wants to be well-prepared. And after all, as the Nurse, Teresa (Shash), makes clear, everyone’s doing it nowadays. As director Lois Jeary notes, this future is ‘closer that you might think’, and I found most interesting in Celt’s script the notion that sequencing would fast become part of the maternity process – as much as the first weighing or counting fingers and toes. The ‘knowing’ or ‘not knowing’ is fruitfully compared to determining the sex of the baby in utero.
Fi Russell’s design for both plays grounds us in the patient-friendly end of front-line health service, and the attention to detail – getting the beds just right – pays off. The doctor’s office is one of ten. The hospital room is one of a hundred. But Celt’s characters have a somewhat similar flavour – they are well-detailed but almost uniformly intelligent – never quite leaving behind their origins as vehicles for argument. Both Halima and Emma resort to extreme actions to get their way and to generate resolutions to their respective plays (SPOILER ALERT: the threat of a false rape allegation and the switching of blood test samples) but they don’t feel quite right. Both protagonists are made familiar and sensible enough for us to listen to their arguments, but moments later they are made to take actions that seem out of character. I don’t think that this is a necessary state for dilemma plays – one of my favourite shorts, Pink by Sam Holcroft (from the Tricycle’s 2010 ‘Women, Power and Politics’ Season which I just bloody loved), kicks off with thoroughly extreme characters – a pornstar-turned-entrepreneur about to launch new range of sex toys and a female prime minister whose husband’s internet purchases have been made public – but doesn’t then need them to take extreme actions. They proceed to have a very ‘thinky’ debate about pornography, but I remember hanging on every word – any decision interesting characters make will resonate through their world.