Picture this: you and hundreds of other people are sat in a casino. There is one dealer and real money on the table. Your job is simple- work together with the people around you to outsmart the dealer and take home the dough.
There’s just one catch though.
The casino is on fire.
So, it’s up to you and everyone else to make a seemingly easy choice: do you take the money or let the place burn?
That is the premise of London-based theatre company Kill the Cat‘s latest play, ‘The House Never Wins’.
Produced by Turtle Key Arts, this intense virtual experience is coming to Salford’s Lowry Theatre as part of its third online tour on the 16th of October.
IT'S BACK#TheHouseNeverWins returns this October for ONE.MORE.TOUR.
Haven't been able to join us yet? Take part in some live interactive theatre from the comfort of your own sofa…
All dates – https://t.co/IglNyAjA1H@Fal_Amata @IntoBodmin @maketankexeter @the_lowry @CamdenPT pic.twitter.com/yyM09WYDtD
— Kill The Cat (@KillTheCatCo) September 16, 2020
Set in a casino called ‘The House’, a Zoom call full of audience members must pit their luck against the dealer, whilst trying to keep the place standing.
Truly unique, the play puts the power in its audience’s hands – literally – allowing them to twist and turn the narrative depending on their responses to Whatsapp messages, surveys and puzzles.
And now the people of Salford can experience this hands-on digital dilemma themselves.
Originally commissioned by Upstart Theatre in 2019, ‘The House Never Wins‘ was written by Dylan Frankland and Madeline Allerdice, artistic directors of Kill the Cat.
The piece was initially intended to be fully in-person, while still retaining its interactive elements.
Unfortunately, as it so often has, 2020 reared its ugly head and got in the way. The day after the pair got funding for further development, the country’s theatres were closed for lockdown, forcing the show online.
Unlike many companies in their position though, Kill the Cat decided to use this change to heighten their performance without damaging their original vision. But it wasn’t easy.
Dylan detailed how challenging he and Madeline found projecting their piece into the digital world.
He said: “One of the things we were really keen on was not losing the interactive nature of the performance. We didn’t want it to feel like film or like a lesser offering with it being online.
“So, we wanted to make sure it still felt fresh and new and, for us, it was about working out how to play with the online space as a different medium.”
He then went onto explain that sometimes the best way to adapt something is to feed on its drawbacks- including how easy it is to get distracted when sitting at a computer all day.
“In a theatre, there are lots of things you can use to draw attention or focus. You can get a microphone or a spotlight and that says to an audience that you should pay attention to certain things, but how do you do that in an online space?
“One of the things with Zoom or Skype is that it’s a medium that we don’t have much focus on. For example, while we’re talking you could be scrolling on different tabs or looking at your own face in the corner or checking messages.
“So, we wanted to explore how we could play with that distraction and use it as part of the show. That’s why the piece also involves you getting Whatsapp messages at the same time, because that way, the show isn’t broken if you decide to look at your phone.”
It’s not just the innovative and engaging premise that makes ‘The House Never Wins’ stand out, however. It also has an important message regarding the climate crisis.
See, ‘The House’ casino isn’t really a casino at all. It’s a sinisterly accurate allegory for our planet.
And- just like in real life- the decisions we make along the way have an effect, some good and some bad.
With Salford being declared the greenest place to live in England, it seems that many of our residents are making the right choices when it comes to being eco-friendly.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for other parts of the country.
In the age of Covid, other worldwide issues can seem non-existent, but to Dylan and Madeline, they’re more important than ever, even if they’re harder to focus on.
When explaining the subject matter of the play, Dylan acknowledged that remaining motivated to share this message was “strange” due to how “hopeless” the Covid situation felt.
However, he also believes that the pandemic has shown that “timing is really important”, especially for the climate.
“Arguably, we went too late into lockdown and that’s had a really big affect on the UK- and the same thing’s happened with the climate crisis” he said. “We keep on being told we have 12 years left, but in order to make that change we have to do it in 18 months. we were told that over a year ago.
“What we want [the show] to do is remind people that there is another crisis and we should treat it as such.”
Despite its tense atmosphere, ‘The House Never Wins‘ isn’t made to make people feel guilty about their lifestyle. To Dylan, it’s about making people think. Through its frantic mini-games and little conundrums, it encourages people to engage and reflect on both their own actions and the actions of others- even when there’s money on the line.
So sit back, switch on and get ready to gamble for the planet in this unique theatrical experience.
If you’d like to experience ‘The House Never Wins’ for yourself, pay-what-you-can tickets are available here: https://thelowry.com/whats-on/the-house-never-wins/