A former betting addict, director Raz Shaw tells ROBERT CUMBER how he has transferred his obsession to the stage in a bid to help audiences get inside the heart and mind of a compulsive gambler
FOR nearly a decade, Raz Shaw was infected with the betting bug, so badly that he could barely pass a bookies or a casino without having a flutter. It was not until the age of 28, after successfully battling cancer, that he was able to break free from the vice-like grip of this addiction.
Fourteen years later, he's bringing his experience - and that of fellow addicts - to the stage in an attempt to convey the exhilarating adrenaline rush that drives so many gambling addicts to the brink of bankruptcy and despair.
Raz teamed up with Georgina Lamb to produce Gambling, an extended version of a play he created two years ago as part of the Royal Court's Rough Cuts programme.
The pair worked with recovering addicts at the Gordon House residential centre in Dudley and Soho's National Problem Gambling Clinic, the first NHS drop-in centre for gambling addicts.
The resulting three-person show, now playing at the Soho Theatre, is based on those first-hand testimonies.
"We've used a lot of their own words, some verbatim and some in a more poetic sense," said Raz.
"We wanted to find a way of getting inside the mind and heart of an addict - it's about trying to explore the internal in an external way.
"It was important to capture the exhilaration of gambling, as well as the lows. People do it because it feels amazing and there are quite a few musical numbers where we try to capture that.
"Gambling's like any other compulsion. Hopefully, the audience will recognise the adrenaline rush gambling addicts enjoy and get some idea what it's like spending every waking moment chasing that feeling."
Raz visited a number of bookmakers and casinos while working on the play with the cast, but says he never felt the old desire to get his wallet out.
"It's no accident I stopped gambling when I became a full-time director," he explained.
"I replaced one obsession with another. "In my last year of gambling, I was diagnosed with cancer. A month after getting the all-clear, I stopped gambling completely. "At the time, I didn't see a
direct connection, but now I realise that was my opportunity to start again. I'd been given a second chance and I wanted to live my life this time. Gambling affects everything from your bank account to your relationships. You get so lost in the addiction you don't realise what it is doing to you.
"It's an amazing luxury to have this chance to give audiences a glimpse into a world I used to occupy."