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Tales from the Blackjack (Salford)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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There is a risk that those who write about challenging subjects may be seen as condoning the bad behaviour they describe. There is little danger of that misinterpretation with Tales from the Blackjack. The conclusion comes dangerously close to a 'just say no’ simplicity and even before then the distaste that authors Richard Holdsworth and Alex Moran feel for irresponsible gambling is clear.

Unfortunately, this limits their ability to relate to the characters who, as a result, are two-dimensional types (bimbo, closeted hard man) with whom the audience can feel little sympathy. The authors give us a few practical details on how casinos entrap novice gamblers with the initial promise of a cheap night out but show little insight into the seductive appeal of gambling that drives some people towards self-destruction.

The play does not work very well as a narrative. With lip-smacking relish a demonic croupier tells cautionary tales of three of his customers. None of the stories are particularly satisfying. The opening tale is simplistic in outlining how an innocent night out leads a businesswoman to a sticky end. The second is more calculating and the third seems to have little to do with the theme of gambling.

As well as co-writing the script relative newcomer Moran, who delivers a committed performance, portrays all of the characters. Despite the quality of his work his difficulty in relating to some of the characters shows in his performance. His mincing interpretation of Mary as a bimbo does not accord with the character’s success as a businesswoman. On the other hand his bestial Big Baz is spot-on.
At times Moran’s enthusiasm overwhelms clarity. The rapidity of his speech requires you to concentrate on hearing, rather than understanding the lines. Director Graham Easterlow creates a restless pace that sends Moran rushing around the stage. Whilst this technique catches the fevered excitement of gambling it limits the extent to which the audience can concentrate on the play.

Tales from the Blackjack is a fine introduction to a fresh new acting talent but the curious lack of empathy for the characters and apparent distaste for the subject limits audience involvement.

- Dave Cunningham


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