The lighter side of an accidental guru

The Dice House is a farcical take on the cult novel of 'dice living' - and that's how it should be, says the author
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The Independent Culture

It would be nice to think that George Cockcroft was in England by chance, having selected the destination on the throw of a die. After all, in his Luke Rhinehart persona (far more than just a pen name), he is the author of the cult 1970s novel The Dice Man and thus the inventor of "dice living". Yet he is not in London on a whim - he's here to endorse what he calls "my favourite Dice Man-inspired work", The Dice House by Paul Lucas.

This new play is set in a centre for dice therapy run by a maverick psychiatrist, where the dice are used to make all the residents' decisions, and where sanity and insanity blend in the six-sided anarchy of random living. The result is, according to Cockcroft, "a comic romp in the tradition of Molière - a farce which is also trying to present an idea".

And it's the comic nature of The Dice House that Cockcroft particularly likes. "I've had a lot of people write various interpretations inspired by The Dice Man. Some of the screenplays are so dark, they miss the playfulness and the humour." To be fair, the original book is fairly bleak in parts, and Cockcroft acknowledges: "There are some people who like the darker aspects of it and who feel that I've mellowed too much in my old age and lost my intensity and therefore no longer appreciate the darkness of the book."

When you meet him, it's not difficult to see how that could be true. Dicing has shaped his life to an extent he could never have imagined when he published The Dice Man in 1972, dreaming up a philosophy of life that has developed a momentum all its own. At times, its inventor appears to be hanging on for dear life rather than steering the juggernaut he created.

As the idea of making one's decisions at the whim of the spotted cubes has grown in popularity (particularly among young adults), Cockcroft's standing has gradually shifted from that of cult novelist to something approaching a modern-day sage. It's a position with which he seems content (he admits that his most recent work - The Book of the Die: a handbook of dice living - should be filed in the "Self-help" section). Yet he's not an obvious therapist: amused, bemused, he hovers around preparations for the play like an accidental guru.

None the less, he remains insistent that those who have never heard of the book will enjoy The Dice House just as much as fans of The Dice Man. He particularly appreciates the "dice price" gimmick, where punters will have the chance to set their own ticket price (ranging from £6 to £36) on the throw of a die: "It immediately establishes a certain spirit." But, whereas the novel famously boasted the cover slogan: "Few books can change your life - this one will", he doesn't expect the play to have a bigimpact. "Nobody's life is changed by a farce. But on the other hand, one of my theories is that you never know."

'The Dice House', Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, London WC2 (020-7836 3334) from 10 February