Dance with the Devil in South Hill Park's The GamblerBy By Caroline Cook
March 07, 2013
The stories of gambling addicts are shared in an innovative play.
CAROLINE COOK found out more
Sitting on a plastic chair in a chilly church hall in North London, a man in a suit and tie twists a piece of paper in his hands.
When his turn arrives, he stands up and his voice chokes as he shares his story of gambling addiction.
A scruffy-looking man goes next, telling how he lost his house due to debts from card games, and then a well-spoken woman says she just lost control.
Stories like these, honest and heart-breaking tales from gambling addicts, helped inspire a piece of innovative theatre which arrives at South Hill Park tomorrow.
The Gambler, by London-based company Theatre Re, fuses the themes of addiction and gambling with movement, mime and a filmic score played by a pianist on the stage.
“Our production is very visual and we want to show people what is happening in the head of the gambler,” explains Theatre Re founder Guillaume Pigé, who directs and acts in the production.
“We are trying to make the invisible visible and show the frustration, the turmoil and the excitement.”
Guillaume says for the show to be authentic, it was important to hear from those who have experienced the highs and lows of serious gambling.
“We decided to engage with Gamblers Anonymous, and that had a tremendous influence on the work,” he says.
“We went and sat in on some Gamblers Anonymous meetings, which was quite an extraordinary experience.
“To hear their stories and to see how honest they were was quite remarkable.” After listening to the gamblers’ stories, Guillaume invited the group to watch an early version of the play.
“Their feedback was really interesting,” he says. “We couldn’t mess around because we were talking about something they knew about themselves. They had to buy into it.”
As well as drawing influences from real-life gamblers, the company explored art and literature, taking inspiration from 19th century novels like Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades and 24 Hours in the Life of a Woman by Stefan Zweig.
“What all these novels had in common was the downfall of a gambler and his relationship to the game,” explains Guillaume.
“Originally what I was interested in was to play with a round table and a deck of cards, and the idea of gambling and addiction came later.
“The way we create is a little bit the other way around to what everyone else is doing.”
Theatre Re begin their creative process with mime, starting without a script and building up the story through movement and music.
“We don’t start with an idea, we start by moving around the room and trying things and, little by little, we devise a play,” explains Guillaume.
“For this one we had a writer and he watched some rehearsals as we were creating the material and it went from there.”
While the show deals with gambling, Guillaume says it does not try to offer a moral message.
Instead it is designed as a piece of theatre to make people feel the emotions a gambler experiences.
“There’s no moral, we are not judging anything and we are not trying to teach anyone a lesson, we are simply interested,” he says.
“At the end of the day we want to take the audience on an emotional journey so they can really enjoy the experience.
“They can laugh and they can cry, and they can dream – there’s a little bit of that because that is there in the moment when the gambler is waiting for the outcome and everything can happen.
“It’s this little moment and we want people to feel a bit of what that is like.”
The Gambler is at South Hill Park’s Studio Theatre tonight (Thursday) and Friday at 8pm.
To book call the box office on (01344) 484123 or visit www.southhillpark.org.uk.