The Gamblers

The Gamblers

Dundee Rep

Neil Cooper

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? John Lydon's famous phrase springs to mind in Selma Dimitrijevic's production of her new version of Gogol's 19th-century comedy, penned here with Mikhail Durnenkov.

This isn't just because of the Sex Pistols t-shirt sported by one of the key players in the elaborate sting that follows from an unholy alliance between con men. It is the way too that Dimitrijevic and her all-female ensemble play with artifice and gender in a way that itself is a stylistic gamble.

Yet, as each character enters the locker room to play macho games, it pays dividends even as the gang hustle their victim into suspending their own disbelief.

Initially nothing is hidden in this co-production between Greyscale and Dundee Rep Ensemble, in association with Northern Stage and Stellar Quines.

Once the six players have put on charity shop suits and waistcoats, they pick up instruments to become a junkyard dance band before a playground whistle calls them to attention.

Everything from thereon in is an elaborate game, as each of them adopts the exaggerated mannerisms of lads on a stag do, attempting to out-drink, out-swagger and out-smart one another to increasingly ridiculous effect.

Having women put on the fragile mask of machismo in such a way heightens the comedy of what might well be a template for every big-screen depiction of hustlers.

With a cast of six, featuring Amanda Hadingue as newcomer Iharev, Hannah McPake as leader of the crew Uteshitelny, and the Rep Ensemble's Emily Winter as the wily Shvohnev, it also makes for a piece of gender-bending subversion that double-bluffs its way onto the stage with barely a trick missed.

The Drawer Boy

Paisley Arts Centre

Neil Cooper

Self-absorbed actor Miles turns up at a remote farmhouse in search of a story and gets more than he bargained for when he's taken in by Morgan and Angus, who live there. Second World War veterans and life-long friends, the pair play out their lives in early 1970s Ontario, working the land as they keep old memories at bay.

Miles's arrival awakens something in damaged Angus that can no longer be placated by baking bread, counting stars and listening to Morgan's possibly unreliable tales of how they got to where they are.

Inspired by real-life events that led to The Farm Show, a defining moment in Canadian theatre, Michael Healey's 1999 play taps into a rich seam of dramatic and social history, even as it pokes fun at the try-too-hard earnestness that springs from Miles and his big city ways. Out of this comes a tender meditation on how stories can enlighten even the most shattered minds.

Alasdair McCrone's touring revival for Mull Theatre captures the full heart and soul of Healey's drama with an understated sense of the play's intimacy. Much of this is down to how the interplay between each of the characters is realised, something McCrone's cast rise to with aplomb. Barrie Hunter's stoic Morgan is offset beautifully by James Mackenzie's wide-eyed Miles, while McCrone himself plays Angus with a wounded sensitivity that is loveable without ever falling prey to cutesiness.

As the show's tour continues with dates in Dundee tonight, Greenock tomorrow and beyond, McCrone and co have captured the full poignancy of how sometimes the truth can come out in very mysterious ways.