A Gambler’s Guide to Dying

This one-man show, written and performed by Gary McNair, won lots of praise during its initial run as part of the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This latest tour round Scotland and beyond has enabled many more people to enjoy a beautifully-written, deceptively simple work which—part coming-of-age tale, part reminiscence of family—so expertly examines our need to have heroes and to be at the centre of our own lives.

This isn’t just the story of a habitual gambler; it’s equally a celebration of storytelling, and an exploration of how fiction, truth and memory can be hard to distinguish

The titular gambler is the narrator’s grandfather, a man who says he placed a winning accumulator bet on the final result of the 1966 World Cup, and was subsequently beaten up for his treachery in the Gorbals. He’s also the man who, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, places a bet that he’ll outlive the doctors’ estimates and see the first day of January 2000.

The show’s setting is a carpeted living room, empty apart from a single wooden chair and numerous cardboard boxes—a home, and the detritus of a life, being packed away. McNair, once again under Gareth Nicholls able direction, proves an engaging narrator, easily inhabiting not just his grandfather but also his 13 year old self. The script is at times wildly comedic and self-referential, but it also gives McNair plenty of opportunities to show how expertly he can pull at our heart-strings. Anyone who has lost an older family member will recognise the confusion and upset the narrator goes through as his grandfather nears the end of his life.

This isn’t just the story of a habitual gambler; it’s equally a celebration of storytelling, and an exploration of how fiction, truth and memory can be hard to distinguish—how we can all too easily end up considering “a version of a version of a man” rather than remembering “the complicated man he was”. As a performance the play carries itself lightly, using uncomplicated language and a minimum of staging to impart some really thought-provoking ideas about how we all are, in our own ways, gambling with existence every day of our lives, and that perhaps we should think more kindly of those who “need a bet to have hope”.

Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

What are the odds of living an extraordinary life? This is the story of one boy’s granddad who won a fortune betting on the 1966 football World Cup and, when diagnosed with cancer, gambled it all on living to see the year 2000. An intergenerational tale of what we live for and what we leave behind.

Following a total sell-out Traverse Theatre season at the Edinburgh Festival 2015, plus sell-out runs in Australia and the United States and a BBC2 Culture Show feature, McNair’s widely acclaimed, multi award-winning show tours nationwide.

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