FRINGE 2016: THEATRE – A Gambler’s Guide to Dying – Holden Street Theatres – 5K

As the winner of Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Award, A Gambler’s Guide to Dying has a reputation to live up to, and it does so with ease.

This unusual coming of age tale, focuses on an eleven year old’s relationship with his grandfather, as he is introduced to the world of gambling; to the thrill of waiting on the outcome, and the surge of adrenaline that comes from the possibility that you might have won. Equally though, it addresses the downside to this habit, through the eyes of a young man finding his way in the world, learning that not everything is as straightforward as it may seem as a child, and that not all bets pay off.

It is that the story takes place at this point in the boy’s life that makes it work so well. It enables flexibility that may have been lost with a more mature protagonist. While old enough to accurately describe the events going on, there’s still a charming naivety to the character with regards to his belief in his grandfather and the world. How much of the stories being told are true is never quite certain, and whether they were embellished by the boy himself, or his grandfather in the original telling, is equally enigmatic and adds a mythical charm to the whole tale.

The writing is tight; the story well-structured to fill the hour perfectly, without any lags in the narrative. Not a word feels out of place – delivered in an expressive Scottish accent, they practically dance out of writer/performer Gary McNair’s mouth, as he weaves them together to create a colourful rendering of an unusual childhood and the characters in it. The switch between individuals is clear and easily discernible, with each having nicely selected nuances to their personalities which flag for the audience whose voice they’re currently listening to. While the subject matter is often serious, there is a buoyancy throughout, with humour found even in the toughest moments.

This is a bittersweet tale, and a performance of the highest calibre. A sure top pick of this year’s Fringe.

Kryztoff rating: 5K

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