What does it feel like to be addicted to gambling? This is what exciting new physical theatre company theatre re- is hoping to show you in their latest production, The Gambler, at The Space.
Edgar spends his time imagining what a spin of the wheel could bring. But then a chance encounter with a woman reminds him of the world beyond the gaming table. Suddenly, he has a choice to make.
Founded in 2008 by Guillaume Pigé, theatre re- creates and produces visual work at the cutting-edge of mime and theatre.
Two weeks before opening night, I spoke with Pigé and writer and collaborator Adam Taylor about what inspired The Gambler, the power of physical theatre and the importance of finding a venue that fits your vision.
How did you conceive The Gambler?
Guillaume Pigé: I was interested in working with very simple objects to tell a story. So I started playing with a deck of cards. And from playing with that deck of cards last September, I became interested in the idea of gambling and then read a lot about the subject. When I had the theme in place, I contacted Adam Taylor to come on board and build the show with me. Together we realised that it would be more interesting to tell a story where gambling would be a metaphor for the broader subject of addiction. Our main inspirations were 24 Hours in the Life of a Woman by Stefan Zweig and The Gambler, by Dostoevsky. We also looked at Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades.
Adam Taylor: Gambling was never something I’d known much about. But when I read the Dostoevsky on Guillaume’s recommendation, the story fascinated me. I was also drawn to the fact that although gambling is such a huge problem in society today, it’s a mysterious one. There are no physical signs of it like there are with drug addiction or alcoholism. Until their house gets repossessed, you’d never know that someone has a problem.
What are the play’s main themes?
AT: After addiction, it’s the idea of compulsive behaviour – of not being able to stop doing something even when you can see that it’s destroying your life. We’ve also explored the ways in which people overcome addiction, through religion, love and other people. We’ve looked at things that have successfully reformed gamblers over time.
Why was physical theatre the best mode to explore these issues?
GP: What interests us is what’s happening in the gambler’s head. What’s going through his or her mind when they’re at the table? We wanted to make the turmoil, the pleasure and the deadly power of the game visible to the audience. It’s something you can explore through words, but it’s also a visceral thing; we wanted the performers physically to embody the influence exerted by gambling. Part of this is playing with objects. With just a table, cards and a chair we are recreating an entire world. Physical theatre is also a way for us to re-explore various theatrical conventions such as changing characters on stage for instance. It allows us to give gambling multiple faces, to show changes through time and to embody the player’s confusion. Everything is open and possible.
Adam, was writing a piece of physical theatre challenging?
AT: It was a big challenge, which is what most appealed to me. In the past, Guillaume’s work has primarily been focused on mime and movement. This time, he wanted a story that people could relate to, with a mixture of words and physicality. From there, the show developed synergistically, in quite a devised way. I’d write bits of dialogue which we’d then match with movement. Sometimes, we did it the other way round. Normally, I’d sit in a room by myself, write the script and hand it to the actors. Playing with this together, as a team, has been a great, fun experience.
What affect did the physicality of the piece have on the development of the script?
AT: It made me think carefully about exactly what was necessary in terms of dialogue. In this play, nothing is said that we could do without, because everything else is conveyed through actions. They fill in the gaps that your imagination normally would. So the combination of speech and movement is crucial to the story.
Guillaume, why have you devoted your career to physical theatre?
GP: Because I’m fascinated by it! To me there’s a real poetry behind it. It’s at the heart of what I want to keep exploring – to find ways to represent the world.
What prompted you to start your own company, theatre re-?
GP: I started it in 2008 because I needed a producing company to put my first show on. What I’m trying to create with theatre re- is something I don’t see on stage today. Not that many people go to theatre; or if they do, it’s to see a musical or a Shakespeare play. People go to the cinema on a more regular basis. It’s terrible, because the theatre offers so much more. I started theatre re- because I want to make audiences dream, to cry, to laugh and to love. I want them to feel that something is actually happening when they come to see a show. That’s what’s important. Many times I have gone to theatre and been disappointed, because the stakes aren’t there.
Could you explain the ‘re-’?
GP: It’s the ‘re-’ of re-inventing and re-presenting. We’re interested in portraying the world in a way that will make people look at it differently. We’re trying to find a poetry of representation that can only originate with and come through the stage. It’s not about trying to come up with something completely new every time. It’s about taking things that have already been done, moments of life, and sculpting them to give them back their importance. When you see a theatre re- show, like The Gambler, I hope that it will speak to your eye and your heart straight away.
How did you end up staging The Gambler at The Space?
GP: We showed our work in progress at the Roundhouse last May and they offered us a slot. It’s quite a risk for them because we’re a new theatre company, just starting out – and we’re not doing commercial theatre or comedies. So we’re pleased that they’ve taken a chance on us. We could have hired a space in London, but then there would have been no conversation or exchange. We’re part of The Space’s programme, which is a big responsibility. We want to make sure that we engage with their community, their home. That’s important to us, because it gives our work value and meaning. And the space itself works well for The Gambler. It’s an atmospheric venue, an old converted church, which is exactly what we needed. There is the feeling that time has gone by there and that everything has been used and re-used. Although gambling is a problem relevant to today, we’ve set the piece in the 1900s. We want to show that the problem is universal; that no matter the time period, it’s always been an issue.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the production?
AT: That they’ve seen a great story they can identify with; and that they’ve been engaged by the way it’s been told through movement, speech and music – all of the different modes of expression in the play. We also want people to think about gambling, what it means to be a compulsive gambler, or an alcoholic, or to have an addiction of any kind. We hope people will gain a sense of its impact and how we can engage with people to bring them back into society.
The Gambler is on at The Space, 15-26 November. You can book tickets here: http://www.offwestend.com/index.php/plays/view/6702
First published by OffWestEnd.com