Dealer’s Choice – March 2008

8/10

By Patrick Marber

Directed by Samuel West

Venue: Trafalgar Studio 1

Date: Thursday 20th March 2008

I was hugely impressed by this play, as well as the production. This was Patrick Marber’s first effort at playwriting, apparently, and it’s tremendously well constructed, with plenty of insight and humour. A modern classic.

The first half of the play takes us up to just before the poker game starts, while the second half covers parts of the game itself. The game is held in the cellar of a restaurant, with the earlier scenes being set in the restaurant and kitchen up above, allowing for an interesting scene change during the interval. The players are mainly those connected to the restaurant – the owner, his staff and his son – but tonight there’s a new player to contend with. The son, Carl, owes money to Ash, who’s been subbing him and teaching him how to play poker, blackjack, etc. Carl fits nicely into the category known as “mug punter”, and doesn’t have the money that Ash needs to pay his debts, so Carl gets Ash a seat at the poker game downstairs. With his talent, Ash makes plenty towards covering what he owes.

We’ve already spent the first couple of acts learning about the other characters. Stephen, the restaurant owner, is a fairly tough cookie, but his son is definitely a weak spot in his armour. The chef, Sweeney, has plans to visit his daughter the next day, and initially says he won’t be playing, but gets suckered in as usual, losing all his money. Mugsy, the junior waiter, is well named. He has aspirations, which at this point consist of planning to open up a fancy restaurant in the Mile End road in a converted public loo. He also loses his money, so the prospects don’t look good, but he is good value in terms of humour, with his immature attitudes and boundless enthusiasm. The other waiter, Frankie, is more sensible, though that’s not saying a lot in this company. Ash cleans up at the table, though as someone points out near the end, he’s welcomed at the big boys’ tables because he’s their mug player, even if he’s better than this crowd.

The cast included Ross Boatman, a well-known poker player himself, but despite the emphasis on poker it wasn’t so much about that as about the characters and how they’re hooked on gambling. The performances were all excellent, the set was very good, and I’m glad I’ve finally seen this play.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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