THEATRE REVIEW: Paul Lucas’ ‘The Dice House’

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By Ray Bennett

LONDON – The inmates are definitely in charge of the asylum in Paul Lucas’s lively variation on the theme created by Luke Rhinehart in his 1970s American novel, “The Dice Man,” in which fate is handed entirely over to chance.

The setting has been Anglicized, not to say Monty Pythoned, with the principal action taking place in a rural establishment run by a psychiatrist named Ratner (Neal Foster) whose patients allow every significant move they make to be decided by a throw of the dice.

In the case of Polly (Lucy Scott), this meant she has abandoned a quiet middle-class life; deserted her husband; dresses always in pin-up outfits; and copulates with whomever the dice chooses. She is encouraged in this by her shrink who himself dresses according to the dice’s whims, which largely lean towards gymslips and leather.

dice x325Distressed by her actions, Polly’s psychiatrist husband, Dr. Drabble (Jeremy Crutchley, pictured left),  blackmails one of his patients to kidnap her. As Dr. Drabble also is a thoroughgoing loony with murder on his mind, and his patient, Matthew (Matthew Noble, pictured top with Scott), likes to tie up innocent victims in ribbons, their arrival at the Dice House only adds to the farcical permutations.

There is a fairly serious philosophical reflection beneath the comedy having to do with freedom of choice and predestination. Ratner is given to declare that to use dice to decide things “returns a wonderful sense of uncertainty” to life. Good luck, he argues, is only “a temporary absence of misfortune”.

Dr. Drabble calls these sentiments “the incoherent ramblings of a deviate clown” but when push comes to shove he’s willing to put his trust in the dice too.

Lucas provides his cast with some darkly amusing dialogue: “Why is it that people who claim to have had previous lives are always wide-eyed lunatics in this one?” and “It’s always pleasing when random events conspire to ruin the plans of people you can’t stand.”

The cast gets into the spirit of things winningly with physical comedy to match the verbal sparring. It’s a revelation at the end of the first scene as to who is the patient and who the doctor as Jeremy Crutchley’s Dr. Drabble is quite obviously and hilariously out of his mind.

Matthew Noble as the put upon kidnapper grows from bemusement to become a beacon of almost sanity as he meets the young woman (Celia Meiras) who was his lover in a previous life.

Neal Foster, with a rigidly straight back in his assortment of ill-fitting women’s clothes, plays Ratner as a stern but quite cracked schoolteacher. Lucy Scott, in vinyl bustier with stockings and suspenders, is fetching and funny as the quiet matron turned strumpet.

There are some other very odd characters including an old codger named Smith, played heartily by Neil Boorman, who gives proof to the maxim that even paranoids have enemies as he loses body parts to a dedicated assassin as the evening goes along. And there’s James Low, very convincing as a deluded chap named Victor who remains dangerous even after four lobotomies.

Director Graeme Messer keeps things moving over 110 minutes and if the farce isn’t entirely free flowing, it is great fun.

Venue: Arts Theatre, runs through April 4; Cast: Jeremy Crutchley, Matthew Noble, Celia Meiras, Neil Boorman, Neal Foster, Lucy Scott, Benedict Martin, James Low; Playwright: Paul Lucas; Director: Graeme Messer; Designer: Norman Coates; Lighting: David W. Kidd; Music: Matthew Scott; Sound designer: Tom Lishman; Presented by Dice House Productions Ltd.

This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter. Photos by Ian Tilton.

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