Theatre Re’s production, The Gambler, is a remarkable piece of theatre: slick, imaginative, engaging and flawlessly executed. Director and performer Guillaume Pigé and co-star Tugba Tamer are two captivating performers, and their story, while stylised to the point of burlesque, never lets the tension drop beneath that of its explosive opening scenes.
The show starts in a tableau of two slumped figures in what we soon learn is a dilapidated casino in France at the end of the nineteenth century. Pigé plays Edgar, now an old, slightly unhinged man retelling his tale of woe like a Parisian Tom Waits, while Tamer plays both Margaret, Edgar’s lady love and an embodiment of his insatiable addiction to roulette. The transitions between past and present scenes are simple and extremely impressive; the two active performers (both graduates of the International School of Corporeal Mime and both possessing uncommonly expressive faces) have choreographed the entire fifty-minute show to perfection.
The show claims inspiration from literary sources as well as from talking with former gambling addicts in London, and both those metaphorical and documentary influences can be felt in the storytelling, from the decrepitude of Edgar’s current life to its contrast with his intense, freewheeling early encounters with the card table. The first movement sequences between Edgar and Tamer’s Lady Luck figure are forceful, dangerous and visually impressive, and set the bar extremely high for the remainder of the show. Meanwhile the technical effects are quietly spot-on with every cue and with such a sparse set (one table, one chair) multiply the play’s visual possibilities without ever feeling intrusive or showy. Alex Judd’s live score on piano and violin is effortlessly supportive and complemented the action beautifully. With the piano on stage in such a small space, the piece gained a real sense of intimacy and urgency.
The narrative, while less ambitious than the play’s other parts, is still sufficiently nuanced to keep all the necessary cogs turning. The characters of Edgar and Margaret are economically painted, and considering the paucity of exposition, more than a little emotionally engaging. At £7/£6, The Gambler is an absolute steal and, very simply put, a must-see.