A Gambler’s Guide to Dying (4 stars)

This article is from 2015

A Gambler’s Guide to Dying

Credit: Jassy Earl

Gary McNair's witty and moving one-man tribute to an extraordinary wager against mortality

Following the success of last year’s Donald Robertson is Not a Stand-up Comedian, writer/performer Gary McNair and director Gareth Nicholls return with a wry and poignant tribute to the life and passing of grandfather, Archie Campbell.

A young lad loves nothing more than to listen to his grandad’s many stories and none more so than of Archie’s big win betting on England to win the 1966 world cup final; made all the luckier by Archie’s narrow escape from the south Glasgow pub in which his victory celebration draws an angry mob intent on giving him a beating.

Unfolding these stories before his audience, McNair crackles with warmth as the booming Campbell, and a whole bevy of other characters, nimbly exchanging one highly charged detail for the next. It is a delight to witness Campbell's raconteur skills, to assure us of the kind of lucky scrapes that could only occur to the man who fell into the Clyde and came out with a salmon in his mouth, or at least, that's the way that Archie tells it. Although, not unlike the garden that he tends with his grandson, Archie's stories it seems, have seen more than a little bit of pruning over the years.

The youngster now grown confesses that the edges of his memories possess a blurry quality akin to that of a film and much within the piece exploits the complex and fluid nature of storytelling. McNair takes the audience into the palm of his hand, willingly and wilfully tiptoeing the lines of the fantastical, in a performance replete with knowing asides, brimming with vigour, and with eyes agleam. Nicholls and McNair's elegant gem of a production lines the extraordinary path that leads from Archie’s betting on the football scores, to betting on his own mortality with bittersweet laughter and an abundance of tenderness.

For the young Gary, lying on the banks of a new millennium, the world may be 'equal parts certainty and doom'. Yet this affirming play wants to take on the insurmountable odds by betting on ourselves and to live with the feeling that we might just win. This could just be the nearest thing there is to a gambler's guide to living.

Traverse, 228 1404, until 30 Aug (not 17,24), times vary, £18 (£13).

A Gambler's Guide to Dying

Gary McNair presents a show about life and living, based around the story of a 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. Directed by Gareth Nicholls.