Review: Bingo – scenes of money and death, Young Vic

“I’m stupefied by the suffering I’ve seen”

I started the year with the best of intentions to try and cut down on the number of shows I’m seeing and specifically to stop going to things I know I won’t like (mainly because of the cast). In this respect Bingo at the Young Vic was a double whammy as it had some of the worst word-of-mouth I’ve ever heard from fellow theatre-goers and I don’t even particularly like Patrick Stewart. But I allowed myself to be suckered into getting £10 tickets for a Wednesday matinee (by someone who then bailed at the last minute!) and safe to say, it was not a good experience.

Edward Bond’s play looks at the final years of Shakespeare’s life as the playwright returns to Stratford-upon-Avon having given up on writing, given up on his daughter and wife whom he loathes and generally given up on life. In the midst of his depressed funk is the enactment of the Enclosures Act which enabled the landed gentry to evict many of the poor and in which Shakespeare is complicit as he allows himself to turn a blind eye – though he is not completely without conscience as he sees the wider impact of these actions on a runaway girl who is brutalised by society. But even this makes it seem more interesting than it actually was as the first half was just criminally dull. I found it extremely hard to stay awake and there were a ton of walkouts.

The second half was marginally better, in the way that the follow-up punch rarely hits as hard as the first – Ben Jonson’s raucous tavern scene is a highlight as Richard McCabe momentarily lifts the production from its torpor – Catherine Cusack’s vengeful daughter made me sit up and I liked Alex Price’s performance too. But in all honesty, I could not tell you what the point of it all was – usually I can see where a playwright is coming from even when I’m not liking a play, but Bond’s motives here completely eluded me. The production dresses it up as best it can, Stewart isn’t actually that bad and there are some elegantly staged moments by Angus Jackson, though this has to be one of the worst cases of the emperor’s new clothes I’ve ever seen on the stage.

Perversely I’m glad I saw it so that I can own my own opinion of it, but by the crin I wouldn’t ever recommend it.

Running time: it may feel like all of eternity but in reality it’s 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 31st March

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