Dealer’s Choice

Dealer’s Choice is a Patrick Marber play. Patrick Marber wrote Closer and the screenplay for Notes on a Scandal, for which he won an oscar nomination. Dealer’s Choice has transferred from the Menier Chocolate factory and has had excellent reviews. It stars Roger Lloyd Pack (Trigger from Only Fools and Horses) and is directed by Samuel West.

We went to see it last night full of expectation. I like the Trafalgar Studios, steep seating which means there is no restricted view and some seats right on the stage where you can almost taste the actors sweat (if you really want value for money). The start was promising, a good set and funny dialogue, the characters a little stereotyped but plenty of room for them to develop. However after about half an hour the characters were stuck firmly in stereotype and the plot looming inevitable ahead, the possibilities for misunderstandings and betrayal laid out all too clearly.

The story was played out around a pivotal poker game, which happened in the second half, but by the time it started I felt as if I had seen it already. The game itself was supposed to draw out all the simmering tensions and father /son relationships within the 4 characters working in an unnamed restaurant. There were suggestions of the desperation and compulsive risk taking that may have made it more interesting but these were not developed enough. There was plenty of crying and teasing laughter but it all rang hollow, the crying in particular was entirely unconvincing, something which at this level of theatre is really not good enough. The long, tension building pauses were so devoid of tension that it seemed as if the actors had forgotten their lines. the ending was completely obvious from the start and roger Lloyd Packs attempts at sounding menacing meant him lowering his voice to a throaty growl devoid of any actual malice. Any threat of physical violence was staged badly so that hands raised in anger hovered uncertainly in the air, immediately dissipating the tension and making the threat seem fake.

I know it easier to slam a production than praise it but I was really hoping to enjoy this. However it seemed hopelessly dated, even though it was only written in 1995, and the acting could not save the script which was not funny enough or menacing enough to truly explore the relationships between the men, or to make us care about their blasted hopes and dreams.

A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and death is currently on at the National and is an adaptation of the Powell and Pressburger film of the same name. The play is done in association with Kneehigh Theatre
and as a result is a blend of music, physical theatre and circus style aerobatics. It is a story of a2nd workd war pilot who falls in love with a young, attractive radio operator called June, just before he falls to his death. The dead man who is due to ‘collect’ him and take him ‘upstairs’ fails to do so and he lives, only to meet and fall in love agian with June. The conundrum then is whether he should die as he was supposed to or be spared to pursue true love. The play ends with a trial to decide his fate. It is generally exciting and innovative, using an impressive team of actors to sing, dance, dangle from harnesses, ride bicycles round the stage and literally play with fire. None of this is done simply for effect and the atmosphere created is one of a distorted tiem and shifting reality. The only off note is sounded by the decision to use the end trial to give a stream of polemic about the random and awful nature of war, and the idiocy of being spared simply for love. The women of Dresden appear to plead their case as they have also lost loved ones, an addition for a modern audience who presumably can now consider the position of the bombed German citizens , which may have been unthinkable in 1946 when the film was made. However, this rams a point home too forcibly and unnecessarily, sounding clumsy when the rest of the production is so spot on.