By Patrick Marber
Directed by Kathryn Rogers
17th-20th February 2009
Maltings Arts Theatre, St Albans
11th/13th March 2009
Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead
When a stranger joins the regular poker game at Stephen’s restaurant the stakes are high and winning has its price. An explosive and hilarious evening unfolds as father and son are pitted against each other and friendships are tested to breaking point.
A co-production with Katalyst.
The Real Deal
26th February 2009
WITH the advent of online gaming, poker has started to shed its image as a group of hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking men playing cards into the early hours of the morning.
Fortunately Patrick Marber saw the dramatic qualities of such games and produced his wonderful play Dealer's Choice, set in just such a macho and aggressive environment.
His powerful play was in the hands of newly-formed drama group Katalyst last week - and they did it proud.
In fact, without exception, all six performers who brought the play to the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans were first class.
They captured the camaraderie that can so easily change to anger among the card sharps, the joy of winning and the despair at losing and how, at the end of the day, no-one ever really wins.
Katalyst is allied to St Albans-based drama group OVO and was set up to bring together the talents and resources of both experienced old players and talented younger performers.
Nowhere was that more in evidence than in Dealer's Choice which is set in a restaurant.
Andy Mills as the cook Sweeney, Ben Bradshaw as the owner Stephen and Trevor D. Oakes as the customer cum poker game interloper Ash have all appeared on the St Albans stage before.
Their combined experience produced excellent performances and in many ways, it was the plight of the three of them that was the most compelling. Arguably Sweeney was the greatest loser and Stephen the only winner but as more and more details of their real lives emerge, that assumption becomes blurred.
Tom Jennings as Carl, Stephen's gambling-addicted son, David Parsons as waiter and budding entrepreneur Mugsy - the name gives you a clue - and Matt Jeffs as the other waiter Frankie are the younger generation.
It is easy to imagine them becoming the same soulless addicts as the older generation as the years go by unless they manage to change their lives - and at least in the case of Carl, it is probably already too late.
They all gave performances which showed that the triumph of hope over experience was unlikely to ever happen but you could not help rooting for them.
Kathryn Rogers skilfully directed Dealer's Choice - a brave move for a woman dealing with a play which is set completely in a man's world - and she should be proud of her work.
Stephen - Ben Bradshaw
Carl - Tom Jennings
Sweeney - Andy Mills
Frankie - Matt Jeffs
Ash - Trevor Oakes
Mugsy - David Parsons
Stage Manager - James Lye
Assistant Stage Manager - Adam Bottomley
Lighting and Sound Technicians - Martin Tucker, Adam Nichols
Set Designer - Andy Mills
Set Construction - Cliff Wakeman
Properties - Adam Bottomley
Costume - The Costume Store
Publicity and Programme Designer - Adam Nichols
Media and PR Co-ordinator - Lisa White
Poker Consultant - Mark Summers