Vladimir McTavish reminisces over his gambling follies in 2011; that lead him to despair over a betting addiction; that lured him in with beginner’s luck; that proceeded to tease and torment a humble Scot who was merely attempting to save money to fund the Fringe festivals.
McTavish’s accounts of foiled bets are sincere, open and frank — qualities which beg the audience’s attention and make for captivating storytelling. What can be more cathartic for McTavish than recounting the time when jackpot winnings on a successful horse bet are unable to be collected because you’re now travelling into a foreign country where betting is illegal? A problem shared is indeed a problem halved, yet McTavish’s humorous anecdotes that cleanse the addict’s palet do become an opportunity for McTavish to didactically rave about the British nation’s cultural affairs. Political material in a comedy performance must be handled delicately in order to avoid boredom or even worse, an unamused audience, which unfortunately McTavish only borderline creates.
A Beginner’s Guide to Betting has the wonderful touch of the personal and does offer some killer lines — McTavish makes the hilariously true point that introducing the minimum price for a unit of alcohol in Scotland will be the only way people realise what a unit of alcohol actually is, and it won’t be the bottle of wine they’ve imagined it to be. However, McTavish does stray into unwanted comedy sketch material territory. How can a full audience appreciate gags about the Scottish Premier League when they’re made up of Brightonians who’ve chosen not to watch the Champions League on their Saturday night? Some jokes get lost but the ones that find their way hit target perfectly.