The ultimate all-or-nothing wager, made by a cancer patient facing down a one-month-to-live prognosis, becomes the springboard for a stimulating meditation on the vicissitudes of a life lived in hope.

The possibly true story of Scottish playwright Gary McNair's grandfather is presented from multiple, often contradictory viewpoints, making it impossible to untangle truth and fiction.

At the heart of the story is a touching relationship between a schoolboy and his grandfather — a lively raconteur whose wildly embellished stories provide relief from the boredom of life in a working-class area of Glasgow.

The grandson is initiated into a systematic method of placing a long-odds bet that requires correct predictions for the scores of all 20 of the English Premiere League's weekly games. The excitement and disappointments of these wagers become the cornerstone for an appealing life philosophy in which the spirit of optimism is deployed as a weapon in a relentless battle against fate.


There is plenty of down-to-earth humour along with theoretical musings about free-will and predestination as the gambler and his devoted grandson wrestle with the great philosophical question: "How should we live our lives?"

Their answer emphasises the value of hope and the redemptive power of story-telling as a way to confer meaning on the jumble of unpredictable events, misfortunes and occasional triumphs that constitute everyday life.

The one-man show is convincingly brought to life by New Zealander John Burrows, who studied theatre in the UK and saw the original production of A Gambler's Guide to Dying performed by the writer in Edinburgh.

Although the Billy Connolly style humour does not always land, Burrows' convincing Scottish accent and engaging stage presence carries us through a broad range of emotions as the show build towards its bitter-sweet climax.

What: A Gambler's Guide to Dying
Where & When: The Basement Theatre Studio, until Saturday, June 23
Reviewer: Paul Simei-Barton