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Published on Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Megan Riordan, our Las Vegas hostess, greets us into the Bosco Theatre with a plate of her local delicacy - cheeseball. A sign on the wall invites us to go onto the stage to say hello. They're the first signs that this one-woman show, based on the murky but glitzy world of Vegas gambling, will be a rather different experience from a conventional Fringe play.

Without a doubt, Luck is an experiment, and an interesting one to be a part of. In essence, it's a sketch show - albeit one with a darker core than traditional comedy fare - where our hostess with the mostest is driven from scene to scene by incessant demands projected onto a screen behind the stage. Sometimes, she's acting; sometimes, she's dancing; sometimes, oddly, she's answering trivia questions or reciting lists. Everything, though, is themed around gambling, and everything in the end hooks into an over-arching and rather downbeat plot, focused on her life as the daughter of a Vegas hustler.

To my mind, some of the sketches worked much better than others. My favourites came when the screen flashed up "Tell me a story", and Riordan recounted a tale from her (at least partly) genuine past; these were well-acted and often touching, building up into an intriguing back-story. Other bits, however - including a couple of dance numbers and a Price Is Right game show parody - felt more disconnected and purposeless, and weren't quite funny or striking enough to stand up on their own.

Luck's big gimmick is that the front row of the audience, by throwing dice or drawing cards, choose the direction of parts of the show. A coin flip, for example, meant we were destined to hear a discourse on "Names of casinos" rather than "Gambling cities". There are, we were told at the end, 11,059,200 possible combinations for the whole show - and many of the informative sketches unlocked by these acts of chance were genuinely interesting.

The gambling device, though, didn't really work for me. It borrows a lot from comedy improv, but, of course, it isn't improvised at all: it's just a script with a lot of variations. Without the visceral seat-of-your-pants feel you get from knowing they're making it up as they go along, I wondered whether the show truly gained anything from being different every night. And though I "got" the messages about the nature of chance sprinkled throughout the show, I didn't need a live-action demonstration to augment them.

Still, there's a lot I liked about Luck. It's a well-chosen topic and a well-drawn character; the quirky audience interactions went down well, and the plotline, revealed cleverly in stages, is a thoughtful and meaningful one. Ultimately and ironically, though, I found it all too random to truly hold together as a show. I left feeling glad that they'd done it - but feeling too that all those conventional things, like a well-defined genre and a pre-determined script, have become conventional for a reason.

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