Review: Dealer’s Choice, Royal and Derngate

“There’s nothing wrong with failure, as long as it’s on your own terms”

Combining theatre trips with work meetings has proven more difficult in recent months but I was glad to able to make it up to Northampton to see Patrick Marber’s Dealer’s Choice before it closed, not least for the chance to see Cary Crankson who has been one of the highlights of the Faction’s rep seasons for me. And as the tragi-comic Muggsy who can’t help but be gullible, he’s an endearing delight in what was a highly enjoyable production.

The play is a snapshot of British masculinity in crisis – restaurant owner Stephen runs a poker game every Sunday after closing in which his employees and son regularly participate, their varying addictions to gambling having shaped their lives and their relationships to a point where this could be said to be the highlight of their respective weeks. At this particular game though, slow-building pressures threaten to explode as debts are called in.

Much of the joy in Michael Longhurst’s production comes from the interplay between the men and the intimacy that exists between them, whether positive or negative. Oliver Coopersmith and Richard Hawley have an engagingly difficult dynamic as father and son, Carl Prekopp’s cook movingly portrays the helplessness of a would-be decent father and Ian Burfield’s manipulative interloper has a sinuous power that is only slowly, cleverly revealed.

Helen Goddard’s split-screen design is ingeniously conceived and even though I know nothing about poker aside from what Lady GaGa has told me, the whole thing is gripping indeed and made me want to pay more attention to the people who have previously tried to teach me. Most impressive of all though is the strength of an ensemble who pull us straight to the heart of a story full of unsympathetic souls and somehow brings out our empathy.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 14th June, then playing Oxford Playhouse until 21st June

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