The Gamblers

Nov 12 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩  Cleverly dealt

Summerhall: Tue 11 – Fri 14 Nov 2014

There’s a boldness about Greyscale’s The Gamblers at Summerhall, as well as a timeless satirising of greed and hypocrisy, that makes it both intriguing and satisfying.

Gogol’s play may be the best part of two centuries old and seldom performed, but this new version by director Selma Dimitrijevic with Mikhail Durnenkov gives the story a timeless quality and real relevance without resorting to gimmicky contemporary references.

The Gamblers. Photo: Viktoria Begg

The Gamblers. Photo: Viktoria Begg

The questions raised, such as the apparent value placed on hard work and honesty by those who exploit the system most themselves, seem as modern as the comparisons between con tricks and the workings of the money markets.

Like any good story of a sting or a hustle, there are twists and turns – some are more obvious than others, but this side of the story also shows little sign of being outdated.

The real talking point of the production (by Greyscale and Dundee Rep in association with Stellar Quines and Northern Stage) is the use of an all-female cast in exclusively male roles. It immediately becomes clear that this is far from being a gimmick – it stresses the story’s universality, while the excellent cast bring a springy intensity and energy to the performance.

Hannah McPake displays both gleeful relish and a creepy steeliness to make a thoroughly plausible figure as the con artists’ leader Uteshitelny. The same can be said for Crystal Clarke and Emily Winter as his sidekicks, with Winter particularly impressive as Shvohnev, creating a completely believable combination of outward friendliness and simmering aggression.

strutting, preening machismo

Amanda Hadingue, as the would-be card sharp Iharov, has some of the most thought-provoking contributions, with the character’s hypocrisy and delusion being convicingly and sympathetically rendered. Zoe Lambert and Emilie Patry round out the cast, sharing a variety of roles with the same consistent vitality as the other performers.

The use of female performers not only adds another level to the characters, it also helps create a slightly heightened reality which serves the narrative well. The strutting, preening machismo of the characters is as exaggerated as the oversized suits they wear and just as effective in creating an atmosphere of slight unease.

These are men whose protestations of friendship are as suspect as their marked decks. Oliver Townsend’s changing-room set, where we see the cast putting on those suits at the start of the play, crystallising the transformation from female to male, reinforces the idea that the characters are all hiding something.

Dimitrijevic’s direction maintains the energy of the piece, and if some of the comedy fails to hit its intended mark, there remains a brash profundity about it all that is both convincing and dangerously attractive.

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes including interval
Dissection Room, Summerhall, 1 Summerhall EH9 1PL
Tuesday 11 – Friday 14 November 2014
Daily at 7.30 pm
Tickets from

Æ preview, including interview with the director: Gambling on Gogol


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