Gary McNair's tribute to his gambling grandfather is a bit MOR, but agreeably so
This is a nice way to start the Traverse’s Fringe programme: performer Gary McNair’s monologue ‘ A Gambler’s Guide to Dying’ is a tribute to his grandfather that blends a nostalgic warmth and a few good chuckles with some smart stuff about the nature of storytelling.
It’s a bit MOR, but agreeably so, and crucially for a show about stories, it has a pretty good story itself. McNair’s grandfather was a gambler and teller of tall tales; often the two went hand in hand. ‘A Gambler’s Guide…’ repeatedly returns to an ever-shifting yarn about him supposedly putting a bet on England to win in the ’66 World Cup final, and allegedly getting beaten up in a bar in the Gorbals as a result. The young McNair was in awe of the old man, but as he tells it, he came to realise that not everything his granddad said was strictly true; that he was a gambling addict and a spewer of hot air, whose anecdotes often put an outrageous spin on the fact that he was neither successful, nor popular.
But if it’s a show about a loss of innocence, it’s also about overcoming disillusionment and reaching an understanding with older generations. McNair comes to understand the small pleasures that gambling gave his grandfather, the comfort that exists in storytelling, the joy in buffing an anecdote until it becomes more memorable than true. And at the end of his life, when he was stricken with pancreatic cancer, McNair’s grandfather did something genuinely remarkable and bet his accumulated gambling earnings that he’d outlive his prognosis.
McNair tells the story with total commitment, unselfconsciously adopting a small, hesitant voice when he’s playing himself as a child, perfectly conjuring his grandfather as a booming-voiced raconteur brimming with self-confidence.
The pace is a little ponderous and there’s something naggingly problematic about taking a tale about tall tales entirely at face value. But ultimately it’s a beautiful and entertaining tribute.