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Hannah Walker - interview

Exploring some of her personal stories in an engaging performance, Hannah Walker is touring Gamble: a show that opens the dialogue on the impact of addiction to gambling on both those involved and the people around them. As a subject so prevalent yet often taboo when it begins to take over, Hannah speaks of the ease of being swept up into the world of big wins.


Here, she has told us a bit more about the development of the production and the meaning behind each thoughtful element.

 

Can you tell us a bit about the piece and why you were inspired to create it?


The show is about my experience of being in a relationship with a compulsive gambler and features interviews with gambling industry experts, compulsive gamblers and their family members.


I’d been with my partner for a while and knew he liked a fruit machine but I had no idea to what extent until I discovered he’d been gambling a lot of money online. I didn’t tell anyone about what was happening because I found it very difficult to talk about. There is such a stigma attached to being a gambler and I didn’t want people to judge him or think he wasn’t wonderful.


I began attending GamAnon and after a few months, I started to open up and share my story. The more I talked about it, the more I realised how many people wanted to share their stories and the project began from there.


It was very small to begin with. My partner became a consultant on the project and for a while, it was myself, him and the co-creator Rosa Postlethwaite.

 



How have you found the writing and development process - what has been most rewarding and challenging?


It’s been a long process and I think that’s really helped me digest everything that’s happened. What could have been a challenge during the project actually reinforced the importance to me as my partner relapsed a year after I had begun making the show. The project evolved from that and I think it’ll always evolve however long I continue to perform it.

 

When we began making the show I wrote a timeline of my relationship with gambling and then created mini response performances for each memory. I used to play bingo when I was 14 at the local village hall with lovely older ladies. I went from that memory to my current understanding of the gambling world.

 

I find it really rewarding when people feel like they can talk to me about their experiences with gambling addiction. My partner, who’s been a consultant on the project throughout, believes that this work will raise people’s awareness of the prevalence and effects of compulsive gambling. I find that exceptionally rewarding.

 



How have you managed to translate your personal experiences into something that audiences can relate to and engage with?


I’d hope by telling the truth.

 

The show is fun (even with the debatable singing) but it's also sad and deals with a subject matter that causes so much pain. It’s relatable for people who have experienced someone who’s gambled and it’s also for others to learn about it.

 

Audiences can engage with the show at the Q&A with Dr Matt Gaskell and the morning following a show, with each other, at the coffee and changemaking event. The coffee morning is a chance for audience members to share their experiences with gambling addiction in an accepting environment. It’s also an opportunity to write to local MPs and other changemakers.  When you realise that other people are going through what you are, it makes it easier to come to terms with. It’s what I really needed when I found out about my partner and when I began to talk about my situation I created connections with people unlike any other. 

 



What emotions does the show provoke for you, and how have you managed the reflection on such an impactful topic?


It’s such a personal story so we put strategies in place from the beginning to ensure we were all safe during the rehearsal process. We also have an excellent mentor, Amy Golding. It was sad at times but I actually found it very therapeutic. Talking and listening to people's stories helps so much!

 

The gambling industry makes me so angry and it causes such devastation for people but that feeling reinforces the importance of the show to me.

 

The integration of BSL into the show has become integral. We found that many people experiencing gambling addiction who are BSL users often struggle to access support so both the Q&A and coffee morning are BSL interpreted. 

 



What importance does a Q&A element and featuring interviews with a range of others knowledgeable on the topic have on the production?


The Q&A is with Dr Matt Gaskell who is fantastic and doing incredible things to help people. It’s an essential part of the show and provides an insightful perspective on addiction and how the gambling industry practices fuel it. He points people in the right direction to get the help and support they need and he really cares.


In the devising process, we did a lot of playing and a lot of listening. Playing with Rosa Postlethwaite (Co-Creator) on my story and listening to gamblers and their family members tell me about their stories. We spoke with numerous gambling industry experts, both pro and against, to hear different perspectives which helped to shape the show.

 



Why is the message you're sharing about gambling and addiction important to bring more awareness to?


This show is saying something urgent about the world - a prevalent health condition that is still regarded as taboo. It brings it up so we talk about it and face it. There is such a stigma around gambling addiction and the more I talk about this show, the more people talk to me about their experience, and share that a family member or someone they know is a compulsive gambler. The show isn’t didactic but comes from the position that communities are interdependent and that we have a responsibility to care for one another. It’s so important to me that after watching the performance audiences leave knowing that gambling has nothing to do with someone's character.

 



What are you most looking forward to about bringing your show to the stage and touring it?


I love performing it so I’m excited I get to do that lots!

 

I’m looking forward to meeting audiences and chatting with them afterwards- hopefully enabling them to feel like they can open up and it helps them.

 

My youngest child doesn’t sleep well, so I can’t wait for a full night's sleep when I’m far from home!

 

 

Thank you so much to Hannah for her fantastic contributions to this - it sounds like such an insightful, important, and carefully crafted piece. Your work at highlighting the topic and making it accessible is certainly deserving of the supportive reaction you receive. Wishing you all the best for taking the production forward!



Additional thanks to Annabelle Mastin-Lee for coordinating this interview.


[Some grammar amended for clarity]



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