The image of a mysterious woman – sometimes a real one, but more likely a fictional (if not clearly hallucinogenic) figure who pushes men into dubious success only to subsequently drive them into absolute despair, has been abused in so many different art forms over the centuries it seems almost old fashioned to resort to it today. Unfortunately that’s exactly the dramaturgical format Theatre Re went for in their performance The Gambler – which revolves around the memories of Edgar, a man run down by his addiction to everything from cards to roulette. This fallen hero, whose story unravels in flashbacks, lost his one and only true love to gambling, a habit he was propelled into by an mysterious, devilish and metaphorical muse; both his true love and the evil muse women are played by the same actress.
The basic story is not only as generic and stereotypical as gambling narratives get, it’s also severely underdeveloped. Edgar’s true love turns out to be a girl he met and was with, for what seems like the shortest of times, at the very start of his addiction related escapades – this leaves reasonable doubt in regards to the effects that both women could possibly have had on the rest of his life. With such a weak premise the persuasiveness of the story ends up depending on the audience biting the bait of the inherent romanticism the The Gambler seems to be veiled in. Set in an imprecise epoche akin to the 19th century, the performance is full of largely failed attempts to build a Dostoevskyian universe: there’s self-sufficient quasi romantic images that lead nowhere, adequately theatrical costumes, constant insistence on how emotionally poignant the text is, and a mashup of live piano accompagnement and sentimental play back. Put together they give an impression of a lukewarm first draft that needs to be taken back to the drawing board.
Ultimately what The Gambler lacks is a serious approach to the subject-matter; gambling is not treated as an addictive sport that can easily spiral out of control, but rather as a convenient tool for creating a tragic romantic tale. It doesn’t help that it’s built relatively minimalistically; with no set and costumes that try very hard to be ‘old’. This leads the performance straight into the territory of a scratch-show that takes too many things for granted – most importantly the assumed empathy for and trust in Edgar. In such circumstances much relies on the performers, who occasionally do pull off a moment of tension – even with so many factors working against them. Without exception those happen in sections with no dialogue, when everything rests on the choreography, physical presence and chemistry between Guillaume Pigé and Tugba Tamer. While those scenes can occasionally be detrimental to the story and not particularly relevant to the performance as a whole (the image of two newly-met lovers dancing on a revolving table being the most poignant example), they do show that this company is likely capable of more thought out performances than this one.