Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Gambling

Raz Shaw & Georgina Lamb, text by Tom Holloway
Soho Theatre
(2010)

Publicity image

It takes all types. Some people cut themselves with razor blades, others inject hard drugs into their veins but the subjects of Raz Shaw's play do what it says in the title.

It could be argued that the harm that they cause to themselves and their families is almost as great as the serious self-abusers. That is certainly Shaw's view, as expressed in a play that makes no bones about its antipathy to its subject.

Gambling uses the experiences of three addicts to represent their class. We have a woman devoted (there is no other word) to slot machines, an Irish habitué of bookies' seedy premises and a young man who likes the more pampered atmosphere of casinos.

In only 50 minutes, liberally interspersed with agonised movement, courtesy of co-director Georgina Lamb, and pop soundtrack, Shaw tries to take us into the brains of these hopeless addicts.

For those who see the national lottery as nothing more than a voluntary system of taxation and the Grand National as a gift to bookmakers, this ought to be an eye-opener.

The surprising revelation is that for these people, the expectation of a quick buck (or even a few thousand) is apparently not the main motivation.

The reasons why they gamble are either for the unintelligible buzz of doing so or the desire to beat a non-existent system. Ultimately what it comes down to is an intoxicating mix of escapism and delusion.

The consequences though are the same, regardless of the stakes. Whether the gambling is on the scale portrayed in Enron, where a small country's GNP can be won and lost overnight, or a few hundred pounds poured into a thankless machine, the obsession eventually takes over lives and leaves families broken and addicts in rehab.

Gambling is distinguished by a committed and highly energetic acting trio of Sean Campion, Amanda Lawrence and Will Mannering, supplemented by a glitzy light show and production.

Underlying this is a slight script, drawn in part from the words of real losers. The message comes over that Gambling is bad for us but not as strongly as it might have in a full-length production with more examples and greater detail.

However, if it makes even one miscreant realise the error of his or her ways, the whole project must be regarded as an undiluted success - and it just might.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher