DugOut’s adaptation of Patrick Marber’s Dealer’s Choice is an uproariously funny, meticulously crafted and wonderfully imaginative addition to this year’s NSDF. The ensemble rarely missed a beat in this slick and suave production. Delivering numerous comical sucker-punches to its audience, Mugsy and the boys display an impressive command of the play’s effortlessly cool dialogue.
Dealer’s Choice explores the endless power play between fathers and sons, winners and losers, made men and ambitious outsiders. The restaurant is a haven of petty gamblers and ineffectual dreamers, until it is threatened by the shady machinations of Ash and the underworld. As events unfold, debts increase, the stakes get higher and someone has to cough up for the bill…
Marber is never sombre or overly sentimental towards his characters, and DugOut attacks the acting with a confidence and wit that perfectly captures Marber’s urbane style. The cast also exhibit a refreshing willingness to experiment with Marber’s text, and this gives rise to some of the production’s most memorable moments.
The transition from restaurant into the downstairs poker den becomes a robotic dance of heightened gestures and mechanised movements. These flourishes of physical theatricality return again during the poker game, as each of the players deal cards and raise chips through finely choreographed actions. Dugout’s systematic heightening of Marber’s text expands the play’s hyperrealist atmosphere. The motif of ritual and routine it creates defines the lives of the play’s characters, as well as offering a dynamic eclecticism to the range of performances.
Staged in the Holbeck Theatre at the University of Hull’s Scarborough campus, the stage design is effective in its simplicity. The restaurant interior is outlined through its bare essential elements: Sweeney’s kitchen hovers at the rear of the stage; all stainless steel and glimmering metal, while two tables in red checkered cloths mark the dining area. This understated and functional approach allows the actors to dominate the space through their bold portrayal of the characters, and it’s in the sheer energy and focus of the performances that DugOut truly hits its stride.
It isn’t easy to find fault with this tightly woven ensemble. However, Tom Gill and Ed Smith give particularly assured portrayals of restaurateur Stephen and charming cockney chancer Mugsy. Gill perfectly captures the combination of Stephen’s reticent paternalism and shrewd business-mindedness and, despite being half the character’s age, remains utterly convincing throughout. Moreover, Smith’s infectious energy and rapid-fire delivery is wonderfully off-set by the actor’s ability to make us empathize with Mugsy’s dogged optimism and ineffectual attempts at one-up-man-ship.
In gambling on DugOut and Dealer’s Choice, NSDF has rewarded us with a wonderfully acted and tremendously crafted production. Following the audience out of the auditorium, I failed to see a single poker face in sight. Only big grins, contented smiles and lingering laughter.