What are the odds of living an extraordinary life? A Gambler’s Guide to Dying is the story of one boy’s granddad who won a fortune betting on the 1966 World Cup and, when diagnosed with cancer, gambled it all on living to see the year 2000. An intergenerational tale of what we live for and what we leave behind.
Jonty talks to the show’s sole performer, John Burrows:
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER GARY MCNAIR’S PLAY, AND WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO STAGING IT?
Pure chance of course. The show had sold out during its premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and following an early morning conversation in a cafe I realised I had to try and get a return ticket. As luck would have it I did! The show was performed by the playwright, so I had no expectations of the performance rights being available but I fell in love with the story telling and language. I connected deeply with the narrative of the show having lost my Grandfather at a similar age and carry similar outlooks on life. The thought of performing it myself didn't happen until I moved back home to NZ. I was struck by the realisation that I hadn't acted here since 2015 and am only now performing at the Basement for the first time. A one-man show has certainly been a daunting prospect in this respect but I'm not very good at doing anything by half.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF THE PRODUCTION?
Timing. Logistically and personally as an actor. Jennifer Ward-Lealand is never short of work and after approaching her to direct we first needed to figure where we could fit it in the calendar year. Lining this up with Burrowed Time and my own schedule has made for a relentless six months and there is never enough time. The play itself jumps between characters. Finding the moments, beats and rhythms of the text that best serve the storytelling as a one-man show is no small task.
I hope everyone is able to take away the huge amount of love that has gone into telling this story. It's full of hope, joy and the love of life.
HOW’S THE SCOTTISH ACCENT COMING ALONG?
With such a text heavy piece the most important thing is communicating the story with the audience, I love the Scottish accent having spent extended periods in Edinburgh myself. I know my own weak points and tells, so there's work to do, but hopefully not come show time.
WHAT IS IT LIKE WORKING WITH JENNIFER WARD-LEALAND?
Truly incredible. I'm so fortunate to have her wealth of experience guiding me. I've set myself a big challenge but her communication is crystal clear and there is an enormous generosity in her process. She is an Actor's director which has manifested in an organic process on the floor. Working with her, effectively one-on-one, means I'm learning so much. It's like I'm jumping into a three-week intensive masterclass.
WHAT REACTION ARE YOU HOPING THE SHOW GETS?
I don't want to preempt any audience experience too much but I hope everyone is able to take away the huge amount of love that has gone into telling this story. It's full of hope, joy and the love of life. Told years on from the 'action' of the play, a man is processing his grief as a boy. I hope people connect, and have their own reflections, with that.
A Gambler’s Guide To Dying is on at Basement Theatre from 8 - 09 Jun. Book tickets or find out more here.