Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Gary McNair: A Gambler’s Guide To Dying

By | Published on Thursday 29 September 2016


‘A Gambler’s Guide To Dying’, which comes to Southwark Theatre this month, is currently on a tour of the UK following huge, award-winning success at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, and performances in Australia and America in the intervening time.
It’s an very interesting tale, created and told by acclaimed writer and performer Gary McNair, so I wanted to find out more. I put some questions to him, ahead of his London run.

CM: Tell us about ‘A Gambler’s Guide To Dying’ – what story does it tell?
GM: ‘A Gambler’s Guide To Dying’ tells the story of an inveterate gambler and relentless optimist who won a fortune betting on the 1966 football World Cup and, when diagnosed with cancer, gambled it all on living to see the year 2000.

CM: Where did the idea for the show come from? What inspired you?
GM: It’s been a story that I’ve wanted to tell for years, I just had to wait for the right time.

CM: It sounds like it very much explores the relationship between members of two different generations – have you used your own experiences to depict it?
GM: Yes. I think you can only ever write what you know. Even if you are writing about a prison in outer space, you can still only relate that to experiences that you’ve had in your own life.

GM: You’ve been performing the show since 2015 – have you made any changes to the script since then, or to the way you perform it?
GM: Part of the joy of performing your own work is that you can make little changes here and there over time. In other shows that I’ve performed in the past I’ve had big sections that can be changed to keep fresh but this story has been the most fixed.

Having said that, as I’ve made discoveries in the text and in the story over time, and I’ve made certain sections leaner or bulkier to maximise the impact of the narrative and emotions. Also, I’ve changed a few punch lines. For the better, I think.

CM: How do you go about creating a monologue? Do you sit down and write? Devise? A bit of both?
GM: It’s definitely a bit of both. I have a background in devising so I’m very comfortable with locking myself in a room and playing with a story until there is a spark of something that feels right. But with monologues, I find that there has to be a moment where I sit at my desk for a long time and transfer it all onto the screen. Then the biggest element into creating the work that the audience sees on the stage have it scrutinised by a dramaturge and to work with a director to test the impact of the script- both of these steps allow for me to then redraft and redraft until it’s made.

CM: You’ve taken this to locations all around the world – do different audiences respond differently? How do you feel about performing it for English crowds?
GM: We’ve had a great time sharing the show around the world and have been lucky to be well received wherever we’ve gone. I think a large part of the reason it translates so well is that, while it’s a fairly unique story, it has universal appeal because it’s really a story about hope and how we deal with loss. Everybody can get on board with that journey, even if the characters use turns of phrase from the heart of Glasgow.

All of this has so far rung true with English audiences too. We’re about half way through the tour as I write this and we’ve some of our best audiences so far on this tour that we’ve had in the show’s life.

CM: Which is better, writing or performing? Or is it all just part and parcel of the same thing?
GM: I absolutely love both. I think writing is what drives me, or rather the need to craft and share stories with the world. That said, in the actual moment of performance, there’s nothing better. So, yeah, both.

CM: How did you get into the theatre? What made you want to perform?
GM: I always wanted to perform but I got involved totally by accident. I missed the UCAS deadline so failed to apply for the physics course that I wanted to study on. Then my brilliant and encouraging drama teacher suggested I apply for drama school. I got in. I loved it. The rest is history.

CM: What’s next for you after this tour?
GM: I have a couple of new projects coming up which I’m currently writing and I’m working on my next monologue which will open at the Fringe in 2017.

Gary McNair performs ‘A Gambler’s Guide To Dying’ at Southwark Playhouse from 2-9 Oct, see this page here for all the details.

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