Created by writers Michael Burnett and Joseph McCann, and directed by Sally Reid, The Bookies at Dundee Rep is an inventively staged and captivating black comedy. Making its world premiere, the play and its cast succeed in injecting the unlikeable and challenging characters with dynamic and hilarious performances that bring the show to life in stunning detail to create a timely and exciting new piece of theatre.
The play deals with issues including racist micro-aggressions, crippling gambling addictions, and drug dependency in a way that is both thoughtful and careful. As a result, it manages to keep a sense of gritty realism while delving into elements of the surreal with finesse. While the situations portrayed feel real and are deeply affecting, the comedy is still upheld brilliantly with deliciously dark and confronting jokes and characters.
Ewan Donald delivers an unforgettably brilliant performance as Pat whose full-bodied characterisation is just one example of the overall strength of the writing and direction. Despite being the mouthy bookie who indulges in crude language, casual racism, and a relentlessly self-serving outlook on life, Donald’s comedic timing and delivery is unwaveringly impressive. His nuanced performance brings wit, gravitas and depth to an otherwise detestable character.
This is true of the rest of the cast also. Irene MacDougall as Michelle, Benjamin Osugo as John and Anthony Strachan understudying as Harry are all absolutely riveting. They deliver performances that manage to be at once hilarious, shocking, and heartfelt, particularly during the scheming dialogue and heated back and forths which are perfectly timed, holding a real sense of drama and suspense.
The staging is intricately detailed and feels both natural and elevated with a sense of strange otherworldliness through the use of screens and glitching effects. The layout, with the branding plastered everywhere and sparse furnishings, feels highly realistic and helps to instantly immerse the audience in the world of the show. This realism means that when the strange events begin to unfold the shock is even greater. This elevation of the mundane and grim to something fantastical is exactly what makes this production so brilliant, keeping the action constantly surprising and confronting.
Overall, The Bookies is an exciting and shocking new black comedy which delivers gritty realism and excellent comedic performances while managing to conscientiously portray real societal issues.