The Bookies review – a collective gamble against stacked odds | Theatre

The Bookies review – a collective gamble against stacked odds | Theatre

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Is it a sitcom? A Narnian fantasy? A Tarantino-esque bloodbath? This new play by Mikey Burnett and Joe McCann has not made up its mind and, surprisingly, that’s not altogether a bad thing. The Bookies is an uneven show, but every time you think you have it sussed, it surprises you.

The setting is an Edinburgh betting shop, a once independent business now part of a less welcoming chain. Branch manager Pat (Ewan Donald) thinks he is in line for a star-employee bonus, but his status-hungry boss Michelle (Irene Macdougall), has other ideas. While they talk at cross-purposes, the shop’s sole gambler, injured climber Harry (Antony Strachan valiantly standing in for an unwell Barrie Hunter) sinks his savings into a high-stakes machine.

Beneath the breezy comedy lie three themes. The first is to do with the lust for easy money that makes the staff no different from the gamblers they serve. Second is some metaphysical idea about the desire to conquer impossible odds, be it mountains or betting terminals. And third is about race: black staff member John (Benjamin Osugo) puts up with his white colleagues’ tokenism only because he plans to escape to university.

Biding time … Benjamin Osugo, left, with Ewan Donald.
Biding time … Benjamin Osugo, left, with Ewan Donald. Photograph: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

No shortage of potential there, but none of the themes is fully realised. The allure of money has more to do with plot twists than political commentary; Harry’s magical-realist fixation with Everest is intriguing but peculiar; and John’s complaints about racist microaggressions come too late to have much impact.

All the same, on Kenny Miller’s realistic set, with its cheap-and-cheerful orange fittings, director Sally Reid pulls together a snappy production. In between the heist and the escapism, it remains an odd but enjoyable show.

At Dundee Rep until 21 May

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