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Tales from the Blackjack
Published on Wednesday, 18 August 2010

3.5 stars

C central (venue website)
5-30 Aug, 8:30pm (9:20pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Short, bitter, and cynical, Tales From The Blackjack is a biting insight into the workings of a casino, penned by a former croupier and delivered with the speed and force of a jackhammer.  Each of its three short stories tells the tale of a gambler… and for most of them, of course, the dalliance with the blackjack table doesn’t end well.

The psychology of addition is explored in the first piece, with the croupier aping a girl about town to show the casino’s ensnarement of the hapless Mary.  I enjoyed the camped-up portrayal but, ultimately, Mary was rendered too much a stereotype for me to care that much about her decline and fall.  Similarly, the third piece – about a small-time gangster who just happens to be gay – could have done with some rounding out, a little less of the pantomime baddie and more of what lay beneath.

The central and longest scene, however, showed this production at its best.  A detective story with an unexpected twist, it had an unusual central character and an intriguing plot.  Even better, it offered genuinely new and non-obvious slants on the twisted world of the casino – where simply playing honestly attracts suspicion, and a Mr Big forever lurks behind the scenes.

The pieces are linked by the foul-mouthed croupier, who narrates all the stories and personifies the casino's dark heart.  It works well, and I'd have liked to have seen a little more of the croupier's own tale; he seems to be pleading with us for a form of forgiveness, but his own doubts and motivations remained relatively unexplored.

Yet this takes nothing away from actor Alex Moran, whose gutsy performance is more than enough to see us through the weaker moments in the script.  The physicality barely pauses, from the near-balletic spins which mark character changes to a scene where he chases himself round in circles (it wouldn’t be out of place in a classic farce).  His body must take a beating each night: when he threw himself to the floor, doubled up under a hail of imagined blows, I winced with compassion at both real and imagined pain.

Seeing Tales From The Blackjack is, fittingly, a gamble.  If you warm to Moran in the same way I did, you’ll see past the unquestionable weaknesses in the script, and enjoy his energetically heart-felt portrayal of a seedy and tragic world.  If you don’t, well, you may leave feeling a little let down.  One thing I’m sure of, though: this award-winner from the Buxton Fringe deserves more than the half-dozen people who were there to see it with me, so, go on – take a punt.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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