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Review: Bingo

Posted on 26 February 2012 Written by


Shakespeare has retired and his theatre lies in ruins. Gone are the streets of London filth, drunken applause and royal favour. Instead, he sits in Stratford-upon-Avon among the birdsong and peasants, reluctant to face the responsibility he owes to his wife and daughter, and ensconced in a creeping nihilism and world-weary despair. As gluttonous capitalists provoke civil dissent among the peasants, Shakespeare begins to shoulder the weight of his mortality. After a life of enlightenment and artistic eloquence, William is left with one last question: “Was anything done?”

Written by Edward Bond in 1974 and originally presented in the Northcott Theatre, Devon, Angus Jackson delivers a beautiful, earthy but suffocating revival. With Robert Innes Hopkins’s symbolic use of the revolve, the play unfurls as the seasons do. Beginning in spring and ending in winter, peasants change the set through the tilling of soil or a spritzing of snow, making for some beautiful stagecraft. Credit must also be given to Stephen Warbeck’s simple Gamelan arrangements which give the space humility and the play a chance to breathe.

Lead by Patrick Stewart, the actors are impeccably cast and without a weakness. Stewart’s Shakespeare slopes across the stage like an old, arthritic hound; quiet, diminutive and brooding with frustrated barks of anger that fail to scare the wolves away. Matthew Marsh has a wonderful presence as the greedy and sinister Mr Combe; bursting from his breaches and licking his lips, he surveys the stage as one might a buffet, playing with his food before tucking in. John McEnery and Michelle Tate give very tender, funny performances as a brain damaged gardener and a pyromaniacal prostitute, and special congratulations must go to Ellie Haddington as the Old Woman/Housekeeper who brought such warmth and humanity to the bleakest corners of the play.

Though Edward Bond’s dialogue assaults the audience with waves of anxiety, the piece is not all hopeless. “God made the elements but we inflict them on each other.” This is not a play about the world as a meaningless void, but about human interaction integrity and ideological resolve. Though Shakespeare has sought truth through his art, he has allowed himself to be kept and bought by a malicious, capitalist system, a system he had chances to avoid. Full of questions and rarely attempting an answer, this is a finely produced play that leaves you thinking.

Bingo is playing at the Young Vic until 31 March 2012. For more information and tickets, see the Young Vic website.

2 Comments For This Post

  1. Chris Wheeler Says:

    I disagree with a lot of this, but then I’m not a huge fan of Bond’s writing.

    Although Stewart is absolutely wonderful, and the production design truly beautiful, the play for me often felt very dull and almost pointless.

    Sat on the front row, the stagecraft completely blew me away, but the cast generally seemed weak and confused, with some absolutely dire performances. I don’t think this necessarily means that the performers aren’t talented (I’m a huge fan of Matthew Marsh for example), but that the characters here have no real function or depth to them.

    For me, it felt that Bond had drawn on a couple of the only documents we have relating to Shakespeare, and attempted to concoct a piece of theatre from them. I was particularly irritated by the obvious and almost flippant reference to Shakespeare’s “second best bed” from the will. This surely has more dramatic potential than how Bond uses it.

    The play feels pretentious and unfocused, and I can’t comprehend why Stewart is such a fan of it (he’s performed in it a number of times now). The words that Shakespeare speaks don’t link in any way to the voice that we hear in his plays, and it in fact seems completely impossible to link the character in ‘Bingo’ to the real man at all (although of course we know little about him).

    I was deeply disappointed, although the production is worth seeing for Stewart’s sheer stage presence, and the gorgeous use of the Young Vic’s space.

    - Chris

  2. Joe Moss Says:

    “Was anything done?” No actually. nothing was done. This is a dire play full of hatred and envy. Not even Sir Patrick could save it. By far the worst thing he has done since his return from Hollywood. Politics has its place in the theatre but diatribes are better delivered for free on Speaker’s Corner. Capitalism will not be defeated by getting innocents to pay for this dreary, self-serving, cheerless, joyless, deceitful pile of dung.

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