Reviewed by Debbie Stokoe
Review Date: 06/10/14

The Gamblers

From Selma Dimitrijevic

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There was a lot to like in this tale of tricksters, card sharks and con artists featuring women playing men who weren’t all that they seemed…

Even from the very outset it was obvious that this fast-paced piece (a new version of Gogol’s classic play, directed by Selma Dimitrijevic) was going to involve a study of psychology, mind games and human nature generally. The opening scene saw the characters getting dressed into old-fashioned mens clothing, braces, three piece suits and the like. It was set in a gym-like locker room with wooden benches; the stage marked out with badminton tramlines. The central line bisecting the stage marked out where the characters took sides, basically where they squared up to each other with testosterone fuelled chutzpah.

We are introduced to master card reader and trickster Iharev (Amanda Hadingue) who is looking to get involved in some action. He comes across a group of similar creatures, led by highly manipulative Uteshitelny (confidently played by Hannah McPake) who lets slip about a potential “victim,” and Iharev is hooked on the idea of increasing his already healthy winnings. Iharev doesn’t need much convincing to team up with the gang, but the wealthy mark doesn’t want to play ball. The Gamblers then decide to try their luck with his naive cadet son (a swashbuckling Emilie Patry). After taking him to the cleaners and ending up with a wad of papers for his fathers estate, they then have trouble getting the bank to convert paper into cash. Everyone appears to get quite stressed out, before the biggest con of all is revealed…

I really enjoyed the use of music, with the majority of the six actors playing instruments at various points (saxophone, clarinet, cello, accordion, violin to name but a few) which added to the Russian feel and the authenticity of the piece. Two actors were playing multiple parts and sat on the sidelines whilst the rest of them hustled and tussled it out. The funniest parts involved either props (there’s no need for luxury food items in theatre world) or Uteshitelny taking the mick out of the difficult-to-pronounce names. Zoe Lambert as a servant, banker and wealthy businessman (busy woman, sorry man) also had some good comic moments, hamming up her Yorkshire accent and using her costume to great effect. Emily Winter as Shvohnev and Crystal Clarke as Krugel are also convincing as male gang members and master hustlers.

The gender issues raised when women play men are interesting, especially when the characters are discussing women in a sexually exploitative way and in the context of the depth of the deception and greed that’s depicted. You’re almost thinking, could women act like that? Of course we know just how manipulative both sexes can be, but it was thought provoking anyway to see the gender lines being blurred. And funny, to boot.