A Game of Death and Chance

Gladstone’s Land, The Lawnmarket, Edinburgh

July-September 2019

A second commission from the National Trust for Scotland, A Game of Death and Chance occupied three floors of the 500-year old Gladstone’s Land tenement on the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile.

Reflecting on the terrible experience of living in 17th century Scotland, a time visited by war, plague and the frenzied grip of a Convenanting Kirk, the piece begins with a welcome by Lucky Lucy, a female publican, and moves to an encounter with a speculator in the doomed Darien enterprise of the end of the century. In the bedroom we meet the blasted, bitter and furious embodiment of Caledonia herself, cursing the betrayal of many of her sons from James VI onwards.

Finally, in the parlour we meet Daniel Defoe, a spy for the English government during the critical days of the Act of Union, finally signed in 1707. As he draws a veil over the terrible 17th century, an ‘age of foolishness’, we are confronted with where Scotland exists now within the UK and European project.

A Game of Death and Chance gave audiences the power to choose from three possible narratives in each room, by the choice of a tankard, the pick of a card, the roll of a dice, or the selection of a particular tea. Due to the element of chance, there were 81 possible variations of the show.

Mark Fisher, The Scotsman

In the hands of Grid Iron director Ben Harrison, you get a better class of historical re-enactment…slickly put together and the performances are vigorous and engaging.

Liam Rees, The List

Gladstone’s Land is one of Edinburgh’s oldest buildings, and proves an excellent source of inspiration for director Ben Harrison…The cast work up an excellent rapport with the audience, giving a face to historical events and avoiding a generic run through Scottish historical highlights… It’s certainly refreshing to see more Scottish theatre engage with the nation’s problematic past. A Game of Death and Chance reveals that nothing lasts forever and that hope follows catastrophe, so perhaps we have something to look forward to in spite of the current cultural and political mayhem.

Elaine Reid, The Skinny

This interactive and immersive production at Gladstone’s Land is strengthened by stellar performances. Mary Gapinski as Lucky Lucy is animated and enchanting as the story begins with James VI of Scotland and his penchant for burning witches to cleanse the land. The award-winning composer and vocalist David Paul Jones is haunting as Deith, wandering eerily through the room in a long hooded cloak before performing an evocative song… Finally, we meet Daniel Defoe, played charismatically by Kevin Lennon. As a spy for the English government living in Edinburgh during the Act of Union, Defoe’s disdain for the Scots is overwhelming, and the cup of English tea offered does little to sweeten the sour taste left in the mouth. As Caledonia bursts through the door and screams “freedom”, the call for the country to act feels as poignant now as it did then.

Amy Quinn, All Edinburgh Theatre

The audience is led through the tenement building, followed by Death, meeting a different character in each perfectly decorated room. The designer, Karen Tennent and scenic artists, Megan Yeomans and Fiona Clark haven’t missed a single detail of each room, making the set more atmospheric, impressive and creepy such as with fake bodies that momentarily alarm you. Adding to the disturbing and dark atmosphere are the hypnotic songs performed by David Paul Jones that break up the dense storytelling and get stuck in your head with their haunting lyrics and powerful delivery…Wendy Seager in the role of Caledonia is especially captivating with her desperate eye contact and cheeky demands of the audience that show her frustration and helplessness as she discusses Scotland’s political difficulties. Every moment of this production is memorable and engaging, from the set design to the dialogue and it is easy to become oblivious to the outside world and become fully immersed in the gruesome 17th century life.

Suzanne Hawkes, British Theatre Guide

Deith (David Paul Jones) in plague mask and gown whose eerie presence belies a beautiful tenor voice that repeats a haunting Latin phrase of mourning for the dead. . .It’s all really interesting, informative, well performed and produced: the rooms are atmospheric, the sound and lighting design (by David Paul Jones and Simon Wilkinson respectively) excellent…well worth going to and a good introduction to a very sad period of Scottish history in a rather lovely and fitting setting.

Tamara Fountain, The Fountain

This is an exciting event at this year’s Fringe…For those who love period drama, A Game of Death and Chance provides the opportunity to step inside one for a while. Set in Gladstone’s Land, a stunning 500-year-old National Trust tenement… a good balance of drama and humour. It’s hugely atmospheric and detailed with excellent lighting and sound design, costume and props. Combine that with fully authentic period rooms, genuine furnishings (and even the smells these provide), it’s as close to experiencing time travel as you’ll get. Our journey is well constructed… The action is well directed and the script is original, intelligent and thought-provoking…A Game of Death and Chance offers a unique, insightful and fascinating escape into history, during some of the most turbulent times in Scotland. Yet it looks to the past with forward-thinking theatre-making. It’s an inspired show concept and will certainly be one of my 2019 Fringe highlights.

Ines Watson, The Express

Illuminating, entertaining and well acted, this hour’s journey revealing the crucial steps to the loss of Scotland’s identity provides much food for thought

The List

Gladstone’s Land…an excellent source of inspiration. The cast work up an excellent rapport with the audience.