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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Monday, September 20, 2010

The Bookie, theatre review

Published in The Guardian

The Bookie

Cumbernauld Theatre
2 out of 5

Imagine if bookmakers let you place bets not just on horses, but on personal events that only you could know about. Such "happy bets" form the funny idea at the heart of Douglas Maxwell's new comedy musical, in which the manager of a small-town branch of Queen's International Gaming sends profits rocketing by accepting lifestyle wagers.

The dramatic stakes are raised when an addicted gambler dies and bequeaths a £10,000 happy bet to his niece, laying odds that true love will flourish in the godforsaken town by Valentine's Day. The chances are 50-to-1 against (it's a gloomy place), which means a win would bring down the faltering Queen's empire – an empire that happens to be run by the dead man's brother.

The scene is set for a fight between greed and romance, love and money, free-market capitalism and social cohesion. Faced by the moral distortions of a cash-driven world, the characters must work out their real values. Maxwell plays with themes of probability and chance, and concludes that "true love is a casino in your soul".

Throw in the guessing game about where love will emerge and the play has the potential to be an entertaining commentary on financial and emotional risk. If only it didn't seem so provisional. Ed Robson's touring production for the Cumbernauld Theatre is like watching the idea for a play, with characters, plot and themes sketched out in the roughest of terms. The relationships are implausible, the revelations clunky, and even the characters seem surprised at how often they end up in the same room as each other.

This feeling is exacerbated by the rock-based songs, written by Maxwell and Aly MacRae, which don't move the story forward as much as string it out. The result is an uneven evening, intermittently funny, but failing to hit its potential.

At the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (01224 641122) on 22 September. Then touring.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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