Gambling on Gogol

Nov 10 2014 | By More

Cross-cast version of The Gamblers for Summerhall

This week, for four nights only, a fascinating foray into cross-casting finds itself at the Dissection Room of Summerhall, where Greyscale theatre company dig their scalpels into one of Gogol’s lesser known works.

The cast of The Gamblers. Photo: Viktoria Begg

The cast of The Gamblers. Photo: Viktoria Begg

In The Gamblers, Gogol sets his sights on the cult of greed. Set in mid-19th century, small town Russia, this is the tale of a small-time con-man who joins a card game in a down-at-heel hotel with the intention of fleecing its players of all their money.

What is notable about the production is not its high-profile casting – one of the six-strong female cast is Crystal Clarke who is in next year’s Star Wars: Episode VII  – but that every one of its characters is male and is played as such.

This cross-casting is no piece of gimmickry by director Selma Dimitrijevic, who is responsible for a stylish updating of the script with Mikhail Durnenkov – a member of the “New Drama” movement of young Russian playwrights.

Dimitrijevic told Æ: “We were interested in telling a story about a group of people, rather than a story about a group of men. In order to do that we have women playing these male characters and in the process, possibly, hopefully, being a bit more than just men or women.

“Gogol rejects theatrical naturalism and heightens both his characters and their emotions to extremes in order to show us what he thinks of human nature. And if we are going to talk about human nature, it seems foolish to have a room full of men and no woman in sight.”

wide-eyed and out-of-his depth

What this does is allow the production to have contemporary resonances which just would not work if it were performed straight. With the extra layer of deceit, the gang of gambler con-artists could as easily be a pack of Tory MPs befriending a Liberal Democrat, as 19th-century Russian con men befriending a wide-eyed and out-of-his depth wannabe aristocrat.

Dimitrijevic agrees, adding: “I think this play is radical in many unrecognised ways. Typical western narrative has a hero at the heart of the story, someone who ‘if they just work hard and are good’ will achieve their goal, or if they don’t that will be an exceptional tragedy.

“This play doesn’t even for a moment indulge the idea that this might be true. This play starts from the idea that everyone is corrupt and everyone cheats and if there is any chance for success its to do with being better at it than others. Sometimes it seems that this is the opposite of American dream, this is so often eastern-european reality.

“For me the interesting thing is how much is this reality exists in western societies as well – including UK – but is a) just more subtle and more institutionalised and b) how much we pretend its not the case because it would change our view of the world and us in it if we were to admit that our levels of corruption are not that different from other parts of the world.

“Like the banker in our play says ‘You might call it a donation, but a bribe is still a bribe’. I can’t help but think of NHS every time I hear this line.”


The Gamblers
A co-production between Greyscale, Dundee Rep Theatre, Northern Stage and Stellar Quines.
Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL
Tuesday 11 – Friday 14 November 2014
Daily, 7.30pm.
Tickets from:



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