Chancers – Review by Sarah Gilmartin
‘A man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good.’ This line from The Prince appears as an epitaph to Robert Massey’s new play Chancers, but there is little Machiavellian with the hare-brained action that follows. Chancers is a fast-paced, feisty comedy that looks at the effects of the recession on four individuals in present day Kildare. First up are married thirty something couple Dee and Aiden, their obvious affection for each other strained due to a bankrupt business that has left them and their children living in the storerooms of their one remaining shop.
As Aidan (Luke Griffin) tosses bills away and walks around his empty shop pretending to be busy, Dee (Mary Murray) rushes to prepare for her first job interview after years as a homemaker. Timing is key to any believable portrayal of a marriage and Griffen and Murray play very well off each other in this engaging opening scene that sees a husband’s love for his wife grudgingly overcome his own feelings of failure.
Enter Gertie Graham (Anne Brogan), town busybody and general miserable wagon who delights in Aiden’s misfortune, lecturing him on why he has no customers while refusing to pay for a well-thumbed Daily Mail. Like the school bully who wins the gold medal at sports day, the fortune that Gertie made from the property boom is further chagrin to the bankrupt Aiden, who admirably refuses to rise to her horrible taunts yet can’t resist his own digs when it comes to her pervert son Dennis. In a subplot that adds to the contemporary feel of the play, Dennis is a convicted paedophile whose online collection is the talk of the town. The later unfolding of this subplot fails however, both in terms of credibility – surely they could have called again when Gertie was home – but also because it turns a very serious subject into farce.
The fourth character in the play, wheeler and dealer JP (Andrew Murray), is the source of Gertie’s good fortune, buying her land for an inflated price at the height of the boom. When a winning lotto ticket – kept close to Gertie’s heartless chest – offers the chance to save Aiden and JP from ruin, the moral ambiguity at the core of Chancers comes centre stage. Another dimension is added with the triangular relationship that exists between Aiden, JP and Dee. JP had been engaged to Dee in a former life before his best man Aiden swooped in for the kill. These kind of connections are contrived but they work well in a play like this, where domestic situations seek to highlight more universal themes.
Other things fare less successfully, most notably the melding of the intensely real domestic problems of the characters with less believable action such as Dee’s phonecall with Dennis, her bombshell towards the end of the play, or even the fact that an attractive, intelligent woman in her late thirties with a first class honours degree would be laughed out of a job interview for a receptionist position. Mary Murray’s performance as the frazzled but stoic wife is excellent however, injecting the role with a great comic physicality that produced many of the play’s laughs. More laughter came with Dirty Gertie’s penchant for cursing, though the frequency of her swearing eventually kills the joke.
There are interesting subjects up for discussion in Chancers. The responsibility of the older generation isn’t subtly handled – Gertie is so mean and miserable that she lacks dimension as a character – but it does offer fresh insights on the nature of crime and punishment in recessionary Ireland. The older, land-rich generation who profited from the boom and often encouraged their offspring to invest is seen in a new light, not only through the cantankerous Gertie but also with the reference to Aiden’s own mother who pressured him into expanding his business.
From the beggar outside the shop to the self-made man who finally caved (‘you actually start to doubt the way you believed the world should work’) to the amateur tycoon who lost it all and would do it all again, there are many fine observations on modern Ireland, the kind of place where ‘being a good man’s not a good thing to be.’
Cast: Maria McDermottroe, Luke Griffin, Mary Murray and Andrew Murray
Review by Sarah Gilmartin