We love a good story. Gary McNair, like the protagonist of A Gambler’s Guide to Dying, inherited his love of storytelling from his grandad, a passionate spinner of yarns. The grandad in his play is also a passionate gambler. He’s a man who places accumulator bets on the footie like it’s a religion and takes the longest odds just for the thrill of it. He’s a man who gets diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and goes straight to the bookies to bet on how long he’s got left.
Like all the best storytellers, McNair packs a lot into this deceptively simple tale of a bet with everything riding on it. It’s about a relationship between boy and grandfather, but it’s also about the fallibility of memory, about time and what we do with it, about possibility versus predestination. In a way, the title is misleading; gambling is really a shorthand for believing, for taking a punt on life.
McNair delivers it all from the unassuming surroundings of patterned carpet and old lamps, the set’s piles of cardboard boxes suggesting a life half packed up. Voice dancing from character to character, racing from highs to lows, he and his tale transcend the deliberately drab surroundings, using the banal as a springboard to the profound.
We love a good story, and McNair gives us one. But he also shows us that people are never one story, one headline, one bet. All of us, like McNair’s show, are so much more than that.