Actors play their cards right with laugh-out-loud humour

Risk: from left, Oliver Shaw, Rob Maycock, Stuart Davison, Tom Vickery, Corbett Walker and Ross Gawley
Risk: from left, Oliver Shaw, Rob Maycock, Stuart Davison, Tom Vickery, Corbett Walker and Ross Gawley

Dealer’s Choice

The Studio Group

The Workshop, Halifax

By Julia Anderson

Patrick Marber’s prize-winning play, first produced in 1995, deals with the way compulsive gambling takes over and effectively ruins lives for winners and losers alike – and their families.

Its destructive nature is tempered by laugh-out-loud humour so the play neither celebrates gambling nor preaches against it. Marber’s skill lies in making this collection of sad addicts sympathetic and funny without in the least patronising them.

Stephen (Stuart Davison in control-freak mode), a London restaurant owner, his pusillanimous son (Ross Gawley) and staff just live for their Sunday night poker game. What fires them up is the risk of the game itself, the excitement of not knowing how it will end. “It’s about never say die when you’re dead,” as one of them says.

Perfect comic timing in this brilliant production by artistic director Lottie Ward ensured not a word was thrown away. Outstanding was Robert Maycock as irrepressibly optimistic Mugsy: “I’ve risen from the ashes like the proverbial dodo!” he shouts as his fortunes suddenly take a temporary turn for the better. There were fine performances from Thomas Vickery as Sweeny, chef and failed father, and Oliver Shaw as wannabe Las Vegas pro Frankie. But even hardened pros like Ash, a restaurant punter who joins their game on Carl’s insistance, (a world-weary Corbett Walker), get no real pleasure or satisfaction from their fix as they lurch from game to game, settling the odd debt along the way.

For two absorbing hours we were part of this world and reminded of the weaknesses of human nature. On until Saturday.