Power Games[author-post-rating] (2/5 stars)

The cast do their best with Power Games. They really do. But with direction, choreography and script all stacked against them, it was never going to work. One clever idea is supposed to hold the weight of the whole production, and it’s just not done well enough to do so. The conceit, then, is that we are the audience of a game show called Power Games, where we have the power to vote on various scenarios which have an impact on the life on the central character, Deepak. We can choose to delay his tube or have someone spill coffee on him; we can help him win over the woman who will eventually become his wife; we can land him with a £500,000 tax bill.

Except that we can’t. The whole set-up feels ludicrous. Effort has gone into making the game show format feel real, with smiley host (a hard working Rebecca Thomas) trying to make us believe that we can have an effect on the outcomes. But with a lacklustre script, it’s seems unlikely that there’s more than one arc that this story can follow – it’s hard to feel that we have agency over the story, which might have made it more interesting. As it is, the scenarios get more extreme, which is presumably supposed to be a comment on reality TV and how far people will go for entertainment. Unfortunately, because Deepak (Shane Shamblu, who also directs and choreographs) is such an unlikeable character, it’s hard to care when his life starts to crumble.

Furthermore, the choreography, which should be the emotional heart of this mostly dance-based production, is unimaginative and lazy. We have lots of lunging-while-frowning, lots of falling down, lots of heavy breathing, and lots of slamming and stamping. Parts of it feel deeply influenced by Akram Khan, but without any of his skill – it’s far too scrappy. A lot of the choreography is accompanied by tortured expressions or really basic miming, to hammer home the show’s points.

The script is limp, too. Lines such as “Although his parents came from India, he went to a Catholic school” are just silly, and should have been excised from a first draft. A woman has a buttocks “like clenched snooker balls”, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s also incredibly literal, without a hint of subtlety – a financial giant called Coldman Bachs, anyone? When Deepak reminisces about his youth, trying to decide what career he wanted to pursue, the screens behind him show floating stethoscopes and gavels. When he’s imagining that he’s in prison, he mimes hammering on the walls while standing in a square of light. It’s peppered with lazy cliches.

The format, where segments of the game show punctuate dance sequences, gets tired quickly, and the show lacks the energy to fill its 70 minute running time. The competent dancers do their best, but the choreography remains clumsy and repetitive; at one point, a bar owner mimes biting his nails and holds his head, in case we were unclear that being £5k in debt was a bad thing. Some of the design is realistic (a tube train, Deepak’s flat) but then other things are rendered cartoonish – a multi-coloured repossession order, for example. It’s just… messy.

Power Games is at Zoo until 24 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.