The highs and lows of addiction mark the slick 50-minute Gambling show devised and directed by Raz Shaw, himself a reformed gambler, though not as intriguingly celebrated as the hero of Dostoevsky’s novella, lately embodied on the London stage in Prokofiev’s opera at Covent Garden.
Shaw’s piece is really a stage poem for three actors – Amanda Lawrence, Sean Campion and Will Mannering – on a fruit machine of a design by Hannah Clark, lit (by Anna Watson) with a battery of bulbs and neon strips that convey unbridled joy and elation, then serve as cells of depression.
With modern dance movement by Georgina Lamb, the actors represent moods and pictures of gambling and only belatedly develop any sort of narrative tension. The show is presented as a warning – with the cooperation of the National Problem Gambling Clinic – which is a bit of a downer; the best gamblers I’ve ever known never lose.
The thrill of the chase is searingly uttered by Amanda Lawrence, seeking out a machine that will yield its bounty before she slumps into hysterical despair, while Sean Campion recounts the nightmare of lies that cover up other lies, the havoc caused in domestic life, the sneaking off to the bookies on the way to collect kids from school.
The actors move in fluent circles and dance floor routines to the blazing upbeat disco sounds of “Viva Las Vegas,” Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All,” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” spilling notes from their pockets, biting on playing cards, retreating into loneliness.
Tom Holloway’s text uses verbatim testimony culled from gambling clinics, but it’s all too “moral” in its purpose to be really moving or effective. And it’s not outstanding enough, physically, to stand alone as a dance piece, which is what it’s veering towards.
Still, it’s a minor joy to see an actor as good as Campion strutting his stuff and wiggling his hips, and he summons a world of sighs and tragedy in his haunted expressions as the cocoon crumbles and his world falls apart.