Right before the beginning of The Great Game, two spinster sisters find themselves isolated in rural Australia, far from their homeland of England, and must deal with the inevitable plateau of their lives following their father’s passing. The play itself follows their exploration of their father’s study, inside of which they find the writings of one Lieutenant Colonel Fredrick Burnaby.
In Burnaby’s writings they find the excitement that is missing from their lives and quickly succumb to their overactive imaginations as they begin to live their lives through the detailed accounts of his adventures in Afghanistan and British India. Unfortunately, despite the excitement the sisters (Katherine Connolly and Charlie Laidlaw) clearly find in the writings, the play lacks the same excitement.
Written by Connolly (with Laidlaw and Bernard Caleo, who plays Burnaby), The Great Game presents clear and effective exploration of the effects of being left alone with little purpose to drive you, but it suffers from the simple fact that watching two people being left in that situation is not particularly interesting.
The play begins as the women’s lives begin to plateau and never rises beyond their dreary rut. The infrequent addition of their delusional Burnaby should serve some spice, but Caleo seems nervous and withdrawn in his role, even unprepared, and fails to jolt the audience out of the stupor the piece has lulled them into.
Nonetheless, there is something wonderfully poetic about the writing and there is a particularly effective use of ritual to depict the expectation that is placed upon the two sisters now that they own the house. And Connolly does a few ripper impersonations, both animal and human, and their voyage down the Mississippi is a real light in an otherwise uninviting spectacle.
The play certainly succeeds in identifying the approaching themes of idol worship and delusions, but does so with a rather heavy hand and fails to explore these concepts beyond raising them. And while it’s certainly a comedy, the laughs are few and far between and tend to awkward.
Finally, the marrying of the Victorian sensibilities with modern references to Facebook and popular music is crude at best and causes the play to feel like it is trying too hard to be something it’s not. It seems almost afraid to be seen as old fashioned, but in its attempts to connect with the modern world it falls short and feels like a square peg pushing desperately against the round hole it’s been assigned to.