Gents looking for some action, ladies looking for a ring. The timeless war of the sexes is the premise for The Rules of the Game, a new off-West-End comedy by Andrew Taylor (of musical Toxic Bankers) exploring the consequences of magic formulas for sexual and matrimonial success.
The troops in this particular battle are doomed from the start. On the boys’ side, an English wimp returns from America transformed into a failsafe ladies’ man, eager to share his conquest techniques (and sex videos) with a geeky virgin and a sensitive recluse obsessed with his ex-girlfriend. Leading the girls’ team is a recently engaged gold digger imposing her rigorous dating etiquette on two maladjusted friends, a shy prude and a near nymphomaniac unable to hold out for a second date.
A fast-paced plot and snappy dialogue make The Rules of the Game a compelling comedy most of the time. The scenes are short and punctuated by cliffhangers. Owning the role of the nerd looking to stick it into anything that moves, Nigel Thomas (of the National Geographic Channel series Bloody Tales from the Tower) delivers the play’s funniest lines in a sterling performance full of slapstick charisma.
The central conflict of the play is the clash of the two rival matchmaking programmes. It develops quickly and bears plenty of dramatic ramifications as the members of each camp are exposed to their counterparts’ clumsy attempts at sexual empowerment. However, many of the outcomes are facile and predictable. The character’s attitudes shift promptly at the first challenge, except for the sensitive recluse, who remains a repetitive conscience figure right down to his mandatory, wholly unannounced happy ending.
In range and rhythm, The Rules of the Game offers little other than a live sitcom: a few amusing twists in familiar territory. Though the destination is nowhere particularly interesting, the ride itself is quite enjoyable.
The Rules of the Game. Written and directed by Andrew Taylor. Barons Court Theatre, London. 19 June-8 July, 19:30. £10-15. www.1215productions.co.uk
Photo by Hazel Gardner