Stick or twist: production assistant Aaron Marsden on transforming the Howard Assembly Room into a casino

Posted on November 14, 2011


Cover from Dostoevsky's The Gambler

The concept behind The Gambler, taking place on Thursday 17 November, is to turn the Howard Assembly Room into a 19th century Russian casino for the evening, to host a performance of music and acting based on Dostoyevsky’s book by the same name. The beauty of this idea is that the audience will be sat in the “casino” at either roulette tables or card tables. The action will be taking place around them, unlike a usual performance with everyone at a safe distance from the actors! To add to the overall feel of the room, it will be decorated with various items such as lights hung over the card tables, opulent Kentia palms in gold pots and packs of cards a-plenty.

As Production Assistant, my role is to work with the Director, Lighting Designer, Project Manager and other technical staff to make sure everything that is needed gets built, hired or borrowed for the show, on time and on budget! As with most performances within Opera North, a lot of props are out of the ordinary. You can’t just find working roulette wheels and tables down the local supermarket.

The tables are quite intrinsic to the show, so we were keen to get the right look. Sourcing accurate 19th century tables is nigh on impossible, so we’ve ended up recreating a design that we are happy with and having the cloths printed to ensure we get exactly the right look. It’s trickier than you think to find accurate Austro-Hungarian gulden from the right period, but we’ve managed that too, as it was the currency that is mentioned in Dostoyevsky’s book.

The day before the show is where the excitement will really start for me. It’s the first time all the items will come together in the space and the actors and musicians get to see it for themselves. The day will be full of setting tables and chairs, bringing in the props, sorting out lighting cues and sourcing any last minute items.

On show day hopefully all will be calm for final rehearsals, but if that were so there would be no fun! I have no doubt there will be little alterations to set and props right up until the time the doors open and the waiting audience comes in to enjoy their evening at Dostoyevsky’s casino. Just keep an eye out for things that may surprise you during the show…

Aaron Marsden
Production Assistant, The Gambler


The Gambler is a unique one-off performance created by Opera North Projects for the Howard Assembly Room, taking place on Thursday 17 November.

The Gambler features Russian chamber music from Danny Driver (piano), Oliver Coates (cello) and Chloe Hanslip (violin), accompanying a performance based on extracts from Dostoevsky’s novel The Gambler, directed by Alan Lane of Slung Low Theatre Company.

Alexei – Dominic Gately
Polina – Louisa Clein
The General – Stuart Richman

Director – Alan Lane
Lighting – Tim Skelly
Production Assistant – Aaron Marsden

You can find more information about The Gambler here.