July 19, 2002

Theatre Adelaide

19 July 2002
Murray Bramwell

Dealer’s Choice by Patrick Marber
State Theatre Company of South Australia
The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre.
Until 3 August, 2002 Tickets $13.50 – $42.
Bookings BASS 131 246

Of all the addictions, poker is right up there with the swiftest and the deadliest. Someone even invented a machine so you could lose your money, not only more efficiently, but in total isolation. For the initiated, though, poker is not like a spin of a wheel or the roll of dice. It is about luck and nerve, trust and friendship. It is also about the deception of the poker face and the bluff of the dud hand.

In Dealer’s Choice, Patrick Marber takes us into a London bistro where the serving of food is merely a distraction from the main game. Every Sunday night, as soon as the last table is cleared, the owner Stephen, his son Carl, Sweeney the cook and the waiters, Frankie and Mugsy, are down in the basement seated around the baize for some serious flop poker. As the debts zigzag between them everyone, except Stephen, is out of their depth and working it off as overtime. There is honour in penury, though. No-one mentions Mugsy’s Unmentionable. And everyone is always in for one last deal to take the jackpot.

Director David Field has shown a sure hand with a lively text which begins spinning gags and ends twisting in the wind. Marber is a clever writer, mixing a the instant funnies of half hour comedy with a blend of Mamet and Pinter. And the excellent cast seize their opportunities – the interplay between the long suffering Sweeney (Patou Powell ) and Frankie, the would-be Vegas card sharp (Syd Brisbane in a pencil moustache) is matched by the lugubrious father and his feckless son ( well-judged performances by Michael Habib and Paul Reichstein.)

As Mugsy, Paul Blackwell is like a fly in a bottle. Hilarious in his lucky tie and lucky Hawaiian shirt, his dealer’s choice is called Mugsy’s Nightmare, a variant so mad Stephen calls it bingo for brain surgeons. Mugsy is trying to raise a thousand quid to start a restaurant in a converted public toilet. I will rise from the ashes like the proverbial dodo he exults, part Willy Loman, part Daffy Duck. Only Mugsy is untouched by the arrival of Ash (Michael Griffin) the stranger at the table.

The State Theatre season has been a bit wonky thus far and Dealer’s Choice has helped to steady the ship with crisp performances and a sharp and shiny set designed by the workshop crew themselves. David Field has done very well with a production that gets the laughs when they are there, but also captures the desperation of men who think they are dealing with destiny when it is only disappointment.

The Australian, July 19, 2002.

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