A Gambler’s Guide to Dying is a story about stories: how we tell them, why we tell them, and how they can see us through some of life’s most difficult circumstances. In 1966, Gary McNair’s granddad, Archie, betrayed his fellow Scotsmen by betting that England would triumph in the World Cup. In 1998, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he gambled his winnings on the prospect that he would outlive his prognosis and see-in the new millennium. McNair’s humorous and heart-warming monologue attempts to sum up a person who, like any of us, can only be described as "a complicated version of a version of a man". Moving seamlessly between a naïve and timid younger version of himself, and his confident, larrikin grandfather, McNair shows us that hope can be constructed, and that reality is shaped by how we choose to see the world.
Archie introduces his grandson to gambling when he’s just eleven (sixteen in Gorbal's years), and so begins a secret relationship built on the shared ideal that there’s nothing more exciting than the feeling you might have won. There’s a subtle pathos in the Grandfather’s justification of his addiction. It’s the system, he says; if you divert from it, you’ve lost years of careful work. But it is this optimistic perspective of life that makes the Grandfather so endearing. The yarns he spins recall a lifetime of near misses ("taking the piss saved both our lives") that cast his failures and unpopularity as moments of grand luck and chance. For the Grandson, gambling is an exciting introduction into the grown-up world, where life comes with no guarantees: not even death. But the rose-tinted glasses inherited from his beloved granddad must eventually be removed, revealing the disillusionment that comes with maturity.
McNair’s performance is delightful. In a simply-constructed Scottish living room, complete with worn carpet and vintage lamp, he fully realises both of his protagonists. His portrayal of a relationship, and how it is remembered, is moving and recognisable. Ultimately, McNair’s is a bittersweet tale of hope. The grandfather’s optimistic will to live, not only to see the millennium, but to pass on a legacy, reminds us that we are all, really, just gambling on ourselves. As McNair declares to his enraptured audience, in betting on life, he’d made it magical. Authentic and heart-warming, spun with humour and pathos, this show is a gamble worth taking.
For show times and to book tickets, see the Fringe guide.