Dealers Choice

Should Theatres Bring ‘Dealers Choice’ Back Into Production?
Dealers Choice was the debut play by Patrick Marber, who is probably best known for his 1997 play Closer, which was later adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts and Jude Law in 2004. First performed in 1995, Dealers Choice tells the story of Carl, his father Stephen (a restaurant owner), Stephen’s employees Sweeny, Mugsy and Frankie, and Ash (Carl’s poker mentor who he is in debt to). All six men play poker in the restaurant’s basement, they are all in debt which means they all desperately need to win the game.
The play doesn’t feature too heavily on the rules or gameplay of poker, using it simply as a set-up for the play, which means that viewers who aren’t gambling fans won’t get too bogged down. There is a popular blackjack myth that beginners can ruin the game, and in the case of Dealer’s Choice, Ash doesn’t announce himself as an expert poker player, and thus takes down all the less experienced players at the table.

Dealers Choice is a very minimalistic play, most of the action takes place in one location and features only six characters (a seventh is referred to but never seen). The play is perhaps best known for its absence of women, but even more is that all six characters are exposed throughout the story for their flaws and inadequacy’s as men. The final act of the play especially, is littered with a number of bleaker moments which are thankfully lifted a number of more comical ones. The original 1995 production, also directed by Marber, featured a cast that included Ray Winstone, Phil Daniels and Nigel Lindsay. It also won the 1995 Evening Standard award for Best Comedy.

The popularity of Dealers Choice has seen it revived on two occasions so far. The first one was directed by Samuel West, presented at the Menier Chocolate Factory and featured Roger Lloyd-Pack, Malcolm Sinclair and Samuel Barnett in the key roles of Ash, Stephen and Carl respectively. The production was so well received that it was moved to the Trafalgar Studios in London’s fashionable West End as well as being nominated for the Olivier Award for Best Revival.
Royal and Derngate theatre in Northampton became the location for another revival in 2014. This time, Michael Longhurst was in the director’s chair with a cast that included Richard Hawley, Oliver Coopersmith and Ian Burfield at his disposal.

From recent history, we have seen that every revival of Dealers Choice has been a bona fide success, and without changing very much about the play been productions. The setting remains the same, the characters remain the same and the overall themes and message from the play are as relevant now as they were in 1995. The only thing that has changed is the casting, for a number of reasons. The late Roger Lloyd-Pack received huge praise from audiences and critics alike, it’s a shame we’ll never be able to see him in the show again. The original production saw a young Ray Winstone who was just starting out his career, if he were tempted to come back for a revival, the theatre in question would be guaranteed to sell a huge number of tickets.
With the right director and casting, another production of Dealer’s choice could be a huge hit.