Sunday, 1 December 1996

Double or Nothing, Dec 1, 1996

By  $5 Theatre
Napier St Theatre until Dec, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert round Dec 1, 1997

Funny isn't it how official and government bodies now call "Gambling" "Gaming". By simply dropping a couple of letters we lose the disease, the social ill, the family problem.

It is no longer a matter of luck or loss, fortune or misfortune. It is a Game! It's Fun! Thank you, Jeff, for saving us from such painful definition. We feel much better losing our salaries now.

$5 Theatre Company's latest devised show focuses on gambling, probability, chance, superstition and Crown Casino. It reverts to the old "agit-prop" (Agitational Propaganda) style of theatre that was very popular in the 70's in Britain and harks back to Leftist theatre all over Europe. It is simple in form but leaves one thinking in the truly Brechtian way. It is light and entertaining employing a series of vignettes, tableaux, and direct engagements with the audience. It even runs a real horse race complete with TAB tickets and audience winners and losers.

But, in spite of its light touch, we cannot leave blithely. It has an uncannily discomfiting after-bite. It clearly triggered after-show discussion of a political nature. The old-boy private school network of John Elliot, Kerry Packer, Lloyd Williams and Ron Walker (all responsible for Crown), wields enormous public and clandestine power.

 The casino is robbing the public blind. Casinos never lose. Punters lose. The government may be taking taxes from gambling, sorry, gaming bodies such as TAB and Crown but the losses are still incurred by the people of Victoria.  This state is eating its own young.

The political satire, the comfortable chat of the actors and their accessibility allow us to be lulled into a false sense of having seen something inconsequential but the didactic is at work on our little psyches. Clever old $5.

The one piece of realism in the show is Seamus, the recovering compulsive gambler who confesses his dreadful but all too credible sins directly to us.

This is the stuff of great human drama but naturalism is not the core of this piece. $5 do not want us absorbed in a single emotional drama, a private torment of one man. They want to leave us thinking and screaming for change. Perhaps Kennett has done us one favour. We may have some theatre that challenges the status quo.

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