The Gambler by Fyodor Ilyich Dostoyevsky, adapted by Glyn Maxwell

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BBC Radio 3, 14 June 2009
Part farce, part social satlre, part-exposť of Russian ninteenth century bourgeois society, Guy Retallack's production of The Gambler contained a clutch of memorable performances. Sam Crowe's Alexei, an impoverished tutor trying to make a living, possessed a talent for winning at roulette, but had little or no clue about how to treat women. Although in love with Paulina (Siobhan Hewlett), he had neither the courage nor the social skills to understand that she was passionately keen on him, even if she concealed that desire beneath a vituperative facade. Nicholas le Prevost's General had the requisite social skills demanded by polite society - a mannered, almost staccato style of delivery, an exaggerated sense of politeness - but was devoid of any intellectual qualities. He relied on Alexei to prompt him with the mot juste during his frequent pauses in conversation. De Grieux (David Westhead) tried to fit into this social milieu, but lacked the nous and the breeding to do so. However it looked as if he would have the last laugh; he had such a financial hold over the family that he forced the General to give his consent to De Grieux marrying Paulina. Set against this money-obsessed Parisian nouveau riche was the aristocratic Englishman Astley (Rpbert Portal), who endeared himself to the family while keeping his distance from them. Eventually he married Paulina as a way of taking her out of De Grieux's clutches - even though Astley well understood that she was in love with Alexei. And finally there was Granny (Patricia Routledge), the matriarch of the family, whom everyone expected to die in the near future (and thereby solve their financial difficulties), but who showed a remarkable resilience. In the past Routledge has played the role of Mrs. Malaprop with considerable success; The Gambler gave the actress similar opportunities to deliberately mispronounce De Grieux's name, while dismissing her family's financial wants as "a load of horse poo."
This production celebrated the capacity to refute social expectations, most obviously demonstrated in Granny's hitherto undiscovered passion for roulette, and Alexei's passion for gambling. The fact that both of them defied the rest of the family was testament to their strength of character. On a deeper level, however, The Gambler was about loneliness; the General's isolation as he tried to maintain a facade of respectability while pursuing an extra-marital relationship with the 'actress' Blanche (Charlotte Rendall); the unfulfilled expectations of Paulina, forced into a marriage of convenience to save her family's reputatio; and Alexei's inability to understand the feelings of those closest to him, which left him with nothing to look forward to except endless games of roulette. Astley at one point described the tutor as "a bloody silly man," who favoured his own company above all else. Although Alexei decided at the end of the play to visit Paulina, it was doubtul whether anything would come of it; he lacked the commitment to pursue a stable relationship.