When Gary McNair first performed his remarkable story about his Grandad in 2015 on the stage of the Traverse, he took the place by storm, collecting a Scotsman Fringe First Award. A wonderfully engaging storyteller, McNair narrated his story about Archie Campbell, the ‘guy who chased a thrill’ and won a fortune by betting on England winning the 1966 World Cup then gambling the lot on his living to see the millennium after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Twenty years into the millennium, a year that we will all remember as life changing for so many reasons, McNair’s extraordinary work returns to the Traverse in a new theatrical capture filmed on location around his home town of Glasgow.
Photography direction from Steven Cardno, with its many close up shots of McNair speaking directly to camera and viewer, brings an even greater intimacy to the piece over the film’s 55 minute duration. Cutting from what looks like an old person’s living room to a drinking shop; a betting shop; a garden; a classroom and a playground is as seamless as McNair’s magnetising narrative.
McNair himself brings each character to credible life as the film allows him to be both his wide eyed 7 and 11 year old selves sitting at the feet of his hero Grandad, as well as becoming Archie himself mesmerising his grandson with extraordinary life stories. These stories tell of a man with a philosophy of not spending what he hasn’t earned and keeping a ‘winnings account’ for future bets.
When Archie reveals his abandoned joy of winning the World Cup bet in a sullenly silent Scottish pub, McNair shifts smoothly from being the mad man who menaces with the words “Give me the slip!” to being the slippy wee Archie who does give the menace the slip, but not in the way the guy meant! He takes on the West End tones of Mr McTavish the teacher who tries to lecture boys on predestination and Auntie Carol whose fingers itch to get her hands on this elusive family fortune with equal ease.
Gareth Nicholls, who directed the original production, is joined this time by Siri Rødnes for this impressive stage to screen adaptation of McNair’s work that has a fitting soundtrack from composer Michael John McCarthy.
Gary McNair brings his disarmingly appealing style to this funny and thoughtful piece of writing and performing that manages to speak about the obsessive and addictive condition of gambling with an insight to the reality that it can also give much needed hope. It holds a display of love and acceptance of the flaws in human nature through this particular gambler’s not knowing when to stop. Archie may not have been remembered for leaving a colossal amount of money but he’s been remembered. That’s all anybody wants.
A Gambler’s Guide to Dying is available from 17th December 2020 till 27th January 2021 on a pay what you can basis at the Traverse Theatre’s digital outlet, Traverse 3.