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It was the 8th of March, and I was at a loose end for how to spend my Sunday evening, when leading lady of Dealer’s Choice, Cat Thomas, suggested I come to the show that was being performed at Jack Hylton Room.
Upon my arrival, I was issued with a ticket that was essentially a playing card with a sticker on it; indicative of the content that I was about to see. Having never heard of Dealer’s Choice before, I was intrigued by what might ensue behind the theatre doors. Would I witness a play involving a salesman and a game of patience? Or perhaps a drug dealer and his infatuation with gambling? It was evident that a card game would be involved, but I wasn’t aware of quite how crucial it would be.
The plot was mainly centred on an upcoming poker game, and how this impacted the employees of a restaurant called Wild Card. Although Mugsy, played by Cat Thomas, was very much at the centre of the production, each actor offered a performance that evoked sympathy, humour and concern…an uncommon trio of emotions. When the tension between the characters became too great, for instance in the stylised arguments between Sweeney (Lewis) and Frankie (Henry) and Stephen (Adam) and Carl (Ollie), Mugsy offered comedic relief in her bumbling and badly-timed entrances. In other words, despite the multitude of climactic moments, no scene became ‘too much’ or was ever ‘overdone’.
Interestingly, Dealer’s Choice was originally written for an all-male cast, and incorporating two female actors in the forms of Ash and Mugsy was a notable artistic choice made by director, Jacqui Clark. ‘Having Ash as a female was always a decision I wanted to make,’ she discloses. ‘Then the incorporation of Mugsy as a female meant the arguably lowest and highest status characters were both women. I did not want their main character trait to be “I am a woman”, though. At their hearts, the characters were the same; Mugsy is a loveable Mug and Ash a mysterious, threatening presence.’ Despite the parts being written for men, actresses Lauren Manville and Cat Thomas pulled off the adaptation effortlessly, updating the performance to appeal to a contemporary audience.
Aside from the inclusion of women, what stood out most to me was the professionality of the performance; everyone delivered their lines with perfect tone, the scenes were blocked brilliantly and just the right amount of pregnant pauses were used for comedic effect. Speaking about the rehearsal process, Cat reveals that the cast ‘rehearsed three days a week’, going on to say that ‘it’s a lot of work to get a show together in a term, but it is brilliant’, and the commitment of the team was evident in the quality of the production. It wasn’t just the acting that was a testament to LUTG, though. Cat goes on to explain that ‘the set was all made by LUTG members…and some of the pots and pans were borrowed from members of the companies own kitchens’. It is clear that both cast members and the back-stage crew were thoroughly invested in the show and perhaps this explains its success.
A thoroughly enjoyable performance, Dealer’s Choice has set the bar high for upcoming productions, which I would highly recommend seeing.