“It’s a tax on the rich.” That was the dismissive verdict of a successful businessman on the National Lottery, and of gambling in general (even if I have it on good authority that he took no action regarding a recent World Cup sweepstake amongst his employees). Flutter is not the sort of show that will change his mind, as the damage addictive gambling (as opposed to mere habitual gambling) can do. Tom (Greg Snowdon) is feeling the pressure. A family man with a wife and children, his redundancy package is substantial, having been loyal to his employer. Despite cautions from Dennis (Mark Keegan), who (if I recollect correctly) was made bankrupt by a gambling problem, Tom wants to bet for a living.
There’s a dark, borderline cruel, humour in this production, which sees Tom resorting to ever desperate measures to recoup his losses and provide for his family. But he’s not the only one out of manageress (for that is what she calls herself) Rose’s (Antonia Kemi Coker) regular clientele to be in this branch of Grosvenor Racing on Boxing Day. Dennis spends so much time at the bookies and is on such friendly terms with the staff that he even invites Rose to his daughter’s wedding. Rose’s (not so) trusty assistant, Kelly (Abby Cassidy), is confident and feisty, more than a match for Ajay (Nicken Notak), also a regular customer at the betting shop.
But when Rose and Kelly are in conversation with each other, it just didn’t feel or sound like the way two women in the modern era would speak. Whilst some allowance can be made for this being the writer’s first stage play, some of the exchanges come across as though this is a man’s interpretation of what women might say to one another, rather than a wholly credible dialogue. “Stick the kettle on, Kelly”, Rose almost barks, in much the same way as a senior male manager might have done to a secretary a generation ago. Elsewhere, the tactics of Yankee Bob (Shango Baku) to get Kelly to kiss him, all in the name of a bet, are somewhat morally dubious.
Beyond this, however, is a good attempt at addressing some issues in modern society that simply isn’t going to go away any time soon. Rose knows her regular customers well enough, and the regulars know each other well enough, that they are, in effect, a sort of mini-community. Dennis observes, with some justification, that he doesn’t really know his fellow punters at all, because knowing about them isn’t the same as knowing them. There are many in Dennis’ position – a study in 2015 concluded that loneliness has a similar impact on one’s health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
Then there is Midas (Richie Donaldson) who was, at one point, sectioned under mental health legislation; his rather bizarre thoughts early in the show were better understood in that context. People like him are simply doing the best they can, but admirably, are knuckling down and getting on with life. I liked Bob’s lack of sentimentality after a diagnosis from the hospital means the next Grand National is likely to be his last, and an earlier description from him about Brussels sprouts being “like baby cabbages” was a hoot (and not entirely incorrect – they are apparently from the same plant family).
Some good character development adds depth to a production that portrays a community undergoing change and regeneration. An amusing and heartfelt play, it’s worth a flutter.
Review by Chris Comaweng
Gavin Dent directs Justin Hopper’s new play Flutter at Soho Theatre Upstairs, a funny and vivid exploration of everyday life, seen through the lens of an independent betting shop.
South London 2006. Rose is getting tired. A former Betting Shop Manager of the year, she has seen it all. Now with the shop’s future uncertain, she must decide what to do with her life. But this is more than just a place of work, this is a meeting place, a social club, a home from home for all the disparate characters found there.
Flutter follows the lives and fortunes of the staff and customers of Grosvenor Racing, as they struggle to adapt to changes in their lives. At once comic, touching and true, Flutter is a revealing dissection of those on the periphery in this striking evocation of ordinary life within the betting industry. The play is both a love letter to the high street bookies and a look at the more urgent and destructive side of gambling.
The cast includes Shango Baku (Yankee Bob), Abby Cassidy (Kelly), Richie Donaldson (Midas), Mark Keegan (Dennis), Antonia Kemi Coker (Rose), Nicken Kotak (Ajay) and Greg Snowden (Tom).
Compulsive Theatre in association with The Racing Post presents
By Justin Hopper
Directed by Gavin Dent
Lighting Design by Simeon Miller
Sound Design by Ben Gordon
LISTING AND BOOKING INFORMATION
21 Dean Street
London W1D 3NE
Monday 11 to Saturday 16 June at Soho Theatre Upstairs