Bread & Roses Theatre
Reviewed – 10th January 2018
“just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, the dialogue pitches some sleight of hand that makes you think again”
I remember, as a child, being taught the basics of Poker by my elder brother. “It’s all about keeping your opponent guessing” he explained, “oh, and the bluff…”
There is something attractive about having to second-guess, about not quite knowing what’s going on. Maud Dromgoole’s slick two-hander deals this in spades; just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, the dialogue pitches some sleight of hand that makes you think again.
Twenty-one year old Matthew (Owen Frost) is sitting at a pub table waiting for Suzie (Victoria Porter) a slightly older, seemingly more worldly woman. Is it a first date? Is it a blind date? Is she an escort? After the initial teasing few minutes it transpires that Suzie has been asked to teach Matthew the rudiments of poker. The set, as such, is practically a replica of the pub downstairs below the theatre space, and the audience are invited to sit at various tables. A simple yet effective design, in keeping with ‘Threadbare Theatre’s’ aesthetic that focuses on the storytelling and the acting.
Meanwhile the world outside is succumbing to a lupine apocalypse, with the distant howl of wolves resembling air raid sirens. An allegorical yet slightly confusing sub plot, though interestingly it does add a certain tension.
But the focus is on the players. Director Lucy Linger has picked a couple of intuitive and quick-witted actors who bounce off each other throughout the seventy-minute poker game. She teaches, he studies, she attacks, he defends, they drink, he bids, she raises, he quits, they talk. Two very natural performances. Increasingly they lay their cards on the table, both literally and figuratively, and the more they learn about each other, the higher the stakes. Each scene demands a higher wager than the preceding one.
Shuffled together by Dromgoole’s insightful writing, it is in parts a comedy, a horror story, a political satire and a love story. But above all it seems to be about stripping away the bluff. When the characters realise that they have no option but to show their hand to each other, the game reaches its final climax. To find out what that is, you’ll have to take the gamble and go along for yourself.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Bread & Roses Theatre until 13th January