Four Men and a Poker Game

A retelling of the short story by Bertolt Brecht, translated by John Willet
Metis Arts in Association with Northern Stage
Northern Stage, Newcastle
(2008)

Stage three of Northern stage has been eerily transformed into a ship's hull on its journey from Havana to New York. Audience members looked nervous sitting about the set on rickety chairs with some even dining at two long tables strewn with various glasses and tumblers which seemed to have been slurped empty and abandoned with haste. Smoky, grey mist hung in the air creating a shroud around our narrator, a rather mysterious character played by Scottish actor, David McKay.

A grave soundtrack accompanies this dark tale, composed and performed by David Paul Jones on a piano won by the tragic, yet ironically labelled 'Lucky Johnny'. 'Lucky Johnny' and his three friends decide to take part in a poker game lasting several hours culminating in paranoia and the belief of malice over luck. As Johnny wins every game he begins to realise his alienation and his mates' frustration at his success and when trying to lose, he is caught out and commanded to play properly. Johnny goes on to win not only the piano, wads of money, but also the sweetheart of his fellow poker player.

The textual synopsis of this play proved to be a great deal more exciting than the lacklustre production that the audience sat through, kept alive mainly by the interactive nature of the show. An array of students and various other (some would say unfortunate) members of the audience found the eye contact from performer McKay intense enough to bring delighted gurgles of nervousness, though this attraction seemed to evaporate quickly within this 50 minute show.

One can understand why this production aroused interest by those enabling it, selling it as a 'compelling parable of contemporary capitalism'. However the desire for current affairs has pulled this play to the forefront despite its lack of depth. This show uses various techniques to keep the audience engaged, although most are not necessarily theatrical but simply playing upon British politeness. One would presume it to be difficult to find a 50-minute show exhausting, however Four Men and a Poker Game unfortunately succeeds in this.

Reviewer: V Mitchell