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Four Men and a Poker Game

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
You know there’s a recession on when people start looking to Brechtian cabaret for comfort. While Zoe Svendsen’s staging of Brecht’s 1926 short story of gambling men on the high seas doesn’t strictly fall into such a loose-knit category, as played in the thick of the Tron’s Victorian bar, its scale is totally in keeping with the current small is beautiful mind-set slipping onto our stages. In terms of the current credit crunch, this fantastical tale of pushing one’s luck in an already risky gamble is also about as up to the minute as it gets.

Dressed down in period austerity chic, actor David Mackay prowls between tables as he slowly and deliberately unwinds the tale of Lucky Johnny, who, on a slow boat from Havana to New York, just can’t stop winning in a marathon poker game to end them all. In tone, Lucky Johnny’s travails resemble some supernatural yarn, so steeped in poetic metaphors is the story’s telling. David Paul Jones’ Jones’ live after-hours piano score in Sevendsen’s Metis Arts production heightens the experience even more.

Only an odd hiatus when Mackay/Lucky Johnny leaves the room for a cigarette break interrupts the flow of things. More powerful is a heart-breaking moment when Mackay sits and, through Brecht’s words, likens the other players’ realisation of their losses to the empty aftermath of an infinitely more personal exchange. Finally, with Johnny in deep, Jones steps into the spotlight in the corner of a bar to sing a mournful epilogue in German. It translates as Do You Have a Heart? As an indicator of nouveau Weimar tragedy, it’s perfect.

the Herald, November 21st 2008

ends

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