Four Men and a Poker Game

Adapted from the short story by Bertolt Brecht, translated by John Willett, directed by Zoë Svendsen

 ‘A memorably atmospheric piece of theatre, timely, unsettling, cold and true’                           (Joyce McMillan,         Scotsman) 

With an original score created and performed by award-winning Scottish composer David Paul Jones and performed by David McKay

A backroom bar tale of the perils of winning.
Four men on a ship from Havana to New York, all champion swimmers, playing poker. It is not for nothing that they call one of them ‘lucky Johnny’. But this time, he is really pushing his luck…


The production was originally developed in residency with Grid Iron and Cove Park, before being further developed and supported by The National Theatre Studio and Northern Stage, Newcastle, with support from Awards for All. [/tab_first] [tab] Northern Stage, Newcastle – 7.30 pm, 13-15 November & 9.45 pm, 14-15 November 2008
The Tron, Glasgow – 8 pm 19-22 November 2008 [/tab] [tab]‘Dealt a deadly hand: the destructive nature of economic imbalance is hammered home in a pair of dark, miminalist works’
The Scotsman
Joyce McMillan
21 November 2008
‘The setting – under low metal lampshades, in the dingy space of the Tron’s Victorian Bar – is brilliantly evocative of the sleazy, late-night atmosphere of a tense 1920s poker game. Jones’s score is something of a masterpiece, combining his trademark romantic lyricism and lush sense of melody with a touch of bar-room blues, and wonderful, sinister bass notes of looming conflict and terror; McKay’s performance has a memorably desperate edge, his face etched full of the tension of men on the brink, struggling for survival in the economic jungle of 1920s America… A memorably atmospheric piece of theatre, timely, unsettling, cold and true’
Four Men and a Poker Game, Tron Theatre, Glasgow

The Herald
21 November 2008

You know there’s a recession on when people start looking to Brechtian cabaret for comfort. While Zoe Svendsen’s staging of Brecht’s 1926 short story of gambling men on the high seas doesn’t strictly fall into such a category, as played in the thick of the Tron’s Victorian bar, its scale is totally in keeping with the current small-is-beautiful mindset entering our dramatic consciousness.
Moreover, in terms of the current credit crunch, this fantastical tale of pushing one’s luck in an already risky gamble is about as up to the minute as it gets.
Dressed down in period austerity chic, actor David Mackay prowls between tables as he slowly and deliberately unwinds the tale of Lucky Johnny, who, on a slow boat from Havana to New York, just can’t stop winning in the marathon poker game to end them all. In tone, Lucky Johnny’s travails resemble some supernatural yarn, so steeped in poetic metaphors is the story’s telling. David Paul Jones’s live after-hours piano score in Svendsen’s Metis Arts production heightens the experience even more.
Only an odd hiatus when Mackay/Lucky Johnny leaves the room for a cigarette break interrupts the flow of things. More powerful is a heart-breaking moment when Mackay sits and, through Brecht’s words, likens the other players’ realisation of their losses to the empty aftermath of an infinitely more personal exchange.
Finally, with Johnny in deep, Jones steps into the spotlight in the corner of a bar to sing a mournful epilogue in German. It translates as Do You Have a Heart? As an indicator of nouveau Weimar tragedy, it’s perfect.

[/tab] [tab] “David McKay’s acting was phenomenal – totally believable and the music really added to the show. In fact, John and I were struggling to think of better performances we’d seen over the last twenty years (and we see a lot of theatre) – it was that good. Such an original and authentic work. I sigh at the misfortune of those poor souls who will not have the opportunity to see this beautiful piece – as the run is so short and is only touring to Newcastle and Glasgow I understand. Thank you for the opportunity to see a work of such rare beauty.”
“You got it! Thank you so much. I’m Austrian. The song was not from this world! I understood every word. You are magicians. So pure. So directed. I love you for bringing Brecht so close to me. I did a lot of Brecht stuff in Germany but yours worked. Bravo, you inspired me! You changed me, thank you.”
“Fascinating stage – unusual”
“Very enjoyable, intriguing and engaging”
“loved the focus of the characters – an interesting story put into a monologue”
“poker/war face to face. Please keep me informed of your next production! Great show!”
“Loved the set and design – well done to the designer!”
“V interesting – different from what I expected – involvement of the audience worked very well and created a great atmosphere”
“a tremendous show – I was thinking about it a lot afterwards – it is very powerful. The German lyric at the end is the clincher!”
“Great performance, great use of the Tron space, too”
“Very manly, atmospheric and loved the journey… So far away from here… Nice to get away!
“We had a great time last night. Still talking about it this morning in the office.” [/tab] [/tabs]
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