Russian writer Nikolai Gogol was a master story teller. He specialized in exposing the ridiculousness of human behaviour while retaining a dark stark humour. His play The Gamblers is tale of an elaborate sting where the cheater is cheated upon, the player is played.
Iharev (Amanda Hadingue) has devised a trick that allows him to identify playing cards at a distance, a surefire means of winning every card game. Naturally, he has to show off his skill to his gambler pals Krugel (Crystal Clarke), Uteshiteiny (Hannah McPake), and Shvohnev (Emily Winter). True to their deceitful, devious characters, they set up a scam as hot as a steaming samovar to trick Iharev out of his winnings and well and truly turn the tables on him (or in this case, is it her?)
This re-writing of Gogol’s 19th century work has been realized by fellow Russians, Selma Dimitrijevic and Mikhail Durnenkov who have turned other tables by casting women in the roles of the gamblers. So what is the point of an all-female version? Is it a statement about gender roles? Are women as capable of the same behaviour as men given the right circumstances? Who knows?
The idea is subversive but the reality failed. The play has a fine cast of women actors dressed in men’s suits but that is the extent of it being about strong women. The names remained male as did the gestures. In Brechtian style, the women chat as they change in a sports style changing room from vests and leggings that show their feminine shapes in to the unflattering suits that mostly sit pretty ill. If this is a metaphor for women trying to be as male as the male it feels passé. Think Spitting Image’s Thatcher in a man’s suit.
It is neither a decent drag act nor a feminist rallying cry of empowerment. In spite of much swaggering and posing within the labyrinthine deal and counter deal being played out, only two cast members truly embody male mannerisms. Crystal Clarke is the essence of compact poker coolness as Krugel and Zoe Lambert shines bright as the three diverse characters she captures brilliantly over the piece. Otherwise it feels like a token squeeze in to roles written for men.
The Russian style music is rollicking but Summerhall’s venue is freezing and this play failed to warm the heart.
Tuesday 11– Friday 14 November 2014 at 7,30pm