“I’m not your friend,” shouts wideboy shop manager Pat at his best – and therefore poorest – customer Harry. “I’m your bookie!”
It’s a moment of realisation which has been staring us in the face all along, but for Harry it’s the straw which breaks the camel’s back.
He’s a man who’s lost everything – including his wife, his kids and £100,000 – to the Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT) machines he spends all day sitting at.
Only crumbs left
The supposed companionship of the staff at his local high street bookmakers is one of the only crumbs he has left.
Writers Mikey Burnett – who works in a bookies himself – and Joe McCann have written a dark comedy which mutates into a crime thriller, but its most striking feature is the insight it gives into the daily workings of a betting shop.
Ewan Donald’s laddish Pat and Benjamin Osugo’s young innocent John are a mismatched pair, with John chasing customers down the street to hand them their change and the merciless Pat practicing his fake laugh to convince them he’s their pal.
Into this mundane existence steps area manager Michelle (Irene Macdougall). She’s here to give Pat a bit of bad employment news, despite the betting industry booming.
The play is set roughly pre-pandemic, with government legislation about to drop the maximum FOBT stake from £100 to £2. Meanwhile, Pat and John have been doing themselves out of a job by signing customers up to online accounts.
Feeding the machines
Only people like Harry (Barrie Hunter, although Antony Strachan stepped in on Saturday due to illness) remain the lifeblood of the shop.
He’s been to the summit of Mount Everest and come close to discovering historic proof that George Mallory was the first climber to reach the summit, but a fall last time left him with a £200,000 insurance payout which he’s been relentlessly feeding into the machines.
With half of that money in the broken, unlocked safe, all four characters have their eye on it.
Sally Reid’s direction really brings out the dark humour, and Kenny Miller’s set – an authentic bookie’s shop which transforms into an Everest hillside – looks stunning, even if things become less convincing as the quartet’s crimes escalate.
The National Gambling Helpline gives confidential information, advice and support for anyone affected by gambling problems. Call free on 0808 8020 133.