Gamble

Gamble is based on Hannah Walker’s personal experience, whose partner has a gambling addiction. Despite being the show’s co-creator and performer, Walker never over-indulgences in recounting an autobiographical experience. Gamble is neither a sympathetic portrait nor a shameful depiction of someone suffering from a gambling addiction. In fact, it shines a light on the garish, glitzy world of the online gambling industry, and how it is specifically engineered to inflict the most harm.

A BSL-integrated production, Gamble features the onstage personas of performers Hannah Walker, Rosa Postlethwaite and Faye Alvi, who interprets in BSL.

Postlethwaite sits on a couch facing away from the audience, constantly on their phone engaging in live gambling. Even during moments of interaction, Postlethwaite is completely disengaged from the action, sometimes sitting on a couch facing away from the audience, engrossed with gambling on their smartphone. With Alvi silent and Postlethwaite’s back turned, Walker is all the more isolated and left to fend for herself in front of a curious audience. Alvi is captivating to watch, perhaps the visual anchor of the show amidst the sparkle, multimedia and Walker’s erraticism.

The performance parodies songs like Fergie's Glamorous and tracks from The Greatest Showman. Some scenes and sequences do carry on a tad too long, and certain presentation formats muddy the overall message. However, Gamble tears apart the glamour of online gambling and exposes it for the glitter-coated crap that it truly is.

Paul Trickett’s multimedia design and digital design replicates the tackiness seen on cheap gambling websites. The colours are stark and hurts the eyes, yet the audience never turns away, proving how little it takes to grab anyone’s attention through a flashy gimmick. A catchy music beat underscores messages flashing across a projector screen, fully displaying the highly manipulative content on gambling sites masquerading as innocent, harmless fun. Combining this with the surge of adrenaline someone feels when gambling, it is easy to see how this addiction can creep up on just about any individual.

The message that online gambling is, despite all its enticing facets, a deeply isolating and miserable experience, hits home the most at the very end. A collection of video clips with addicts opening up about their experience play on screen. Their faces are censored and voices distorted; nonetheless, they carry so much more soul, challenging the stigma of addicts, and bringing them more humanity than Walker’s hollow personifications of gambling apps and features.

Moreover, Gamble is a production that also functions as a social service. It builds curiosity towards crucial issues that are currently underestimated and overlooked in society, priming the audience for an incredibly compelling post-show dialogue. The dialogue involves Dr. Matt Gaskel, Clinical Lead and Consultant Psychologist for the NHS Northern Gambling Service, whose sobering anecdotes about this specific addiction, paints a bleak portrait of British society if legislation and support do not respond adequately to the growing epidemic.

Gamble may be rough around the edges, but at the heart of it is a devastating warning about a dark subject more people should be talking about.

This show was reviewed at the Pleasance Theatre, London on the 24th February 2024.  More details on Hannah's work can be found here: HANNAH WALKER – Comedy, performance, theatre (thehannahwalker.com)

Review written by Vic Chen

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