BWW Review: ADELAIDE FRINGE 2016: A GAMBLER'S GUIDE TO DYING Explores An Unusual Philosophy
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Wednesday 10th February 2016
Winner of The Holden Street Theatres' Edinburgh Award 2015, that company, in association with Show And Tell and Gary McNair present A Gambler's Guide to Dying, the reminiscences of his childhood in the company of his grandfather and, in particular, their close relationship, after the grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a short time to live. Writer and performer, Gary McNair, was the Scotsman Fringe First award winner 2014 & 2015, and this production is directed by Gareth Nicholls.
The cancer diagnosis is given in 1997, but the story goes back long before that to 1966, when England won the Football World Cup. Glasgow was a tough city, and one of the toughest parts was the Gorbals, on the South bank of the Clyde. Cheering loudly when England won, in a pub full of English hating Scots, was probably not a good move, but grandfather, Archie Campbell, had a bet on and had just won a small fortune.
A square of carpet, a chair, a lamp, and scattered cardboard boxes place us in the house left behind by the old man, as the grandson casts his memory back to the times that the two spent together and rediscovers how much his grandfather meant to him. The old man had many anecdotes, but we, like the young man, cannot help but wonder occasionally what is true and what is apocryphal. He claims to have won money in 1966, but there is no sign of that in his lifestyle and standard of living, so did he win a fortune?
The boy discovers that the old man is an inveterate gambler, and is roped into helping him when he decides to place a bet on outliving the remaining month of life that was predicted. The tale continues as the old man lives out the time that he has left, the two of them spending time talking, gardening, and the youngster learning the elder man's philosophy.
Gary McNair swings from comedy to deeply sentimental, poignant moments as he tells his story, at the same time portraying all of the characters, from the thugs in the pub in 1966, to school bullies, and family members, as well as giving us an insight into the working of the mind of a gambling addict, and what that meant to both of them.
McNair is a consummate storyteller and the audience is quickly engaged in the narrative, following the ups and downs of Archie Campbell and Gary. The twists and turns, and the odd quirky character, give him plenty of fuel for a rich narrative and he brings it all together into a riveting performance that you should see this Fringe.