The Gambler is the tale of Edgar, a man trapped by a gambling addiction, told through a combination of theatre, dance and live music. The late nineteenth-century Russian setting, the mournful piano and violin accompaniment, and the enchanting use of physical theatre made this short piece atmospheric and beautiful - like a cross between "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and a toy music box.
While The Gambler explores the downs-and-outs of gambling addiction as a mental state, it manages to avoid moralising. It’s a cautionary tale of sorts, but atmosphere clearly takes prevalence - the physical and musical aspects highlight the tragic beauty of Edgar’s downfall. The story is a simple one: the tale of Edgar’s decline from a fine young gentleman to a miserable, hoarse old man. He begins slumped over, leaning against a card table, scruffy and unshaven. Edgar urges us to listen to his story, and flips back into his younger self - deftly removing his beard in one swipe of a handkerchief.
Edgar, played by Guillaume Pigé, has always been a dab hand at a card table, and prides himself that as a gentleman gambler, he always knows when to stop. But he is quickly ensnared by a sort of Lady Luck figure (Tugba Tamer), the dangerous dancing muse of the casino. There are some truly enthralling dance sequences between the pair as Tamer and Pigé perform a card-table tango, pulling cards out of sleeves, bosoms, or pockets; Lady Luck teasing Edgar unrelentingly with the promises contained in a card, or in a roulette wheel.
Edgar meets Margaret one day - the love of his life and a tender, faithful woman. She saves him from drowning himself after a bad loss at the casino, and tries desperately to reform him. Lady Luck, however, will not release her grip on her prey, and Edgar’s life spirals downwards once he realises he will never be free of her.
Pigé as Edgar is fantastic: from a husky old man with a glimmer of madness in his eyes to the younger, more naive man, he holds our attention unfalteringly. Tugba Tamer - who switches continually between playing Margaret and Lady Luck - is captivating in her movements and graceful poses.
The physical theatre aspects of this piece were not only beautiful to watch but managed to enact the narrative in more visual terms. There was some excellent use made of a largely minimal set: the most memorable scene of the piece involved Edgar and Margaret standing on the upturned card table, being spun like a pair of ballerina figurines by the violinist (Alex Judd). Judd’s musical performance, too, was beguiling and perfectly matched to the piece’s melancholic tone.
The only thing I felt was missing from The Gambler was, in short, more of it. It was initially conceived as a short scratch piece that has been developed into a full-length play for the Accidental Festival, and in some places, the development could have gone further. On the one hand, it never feels too long, dragging or demanding, but on the other, it could still use some fleshing out in terms of the storyline. A few more ups and downs or complications would fatten it up into a heartier piece of theatre, but as it is, it is still certainly worth seeing.