Review – Bingo – Young Vic

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“You know what would be great? A play about Shakespeare! Not a play by Shakespeare, but a play in which he’s the lead character! Just think of it … we’d pull in all of the punters that would normally go see a Shakespeare play but want to push the envelope a little, flesh out the things they had wondered about … His life is so little known! I’m thinking … him and Thomas Marlowe in a pub! No, that would never work … let’s do Ben Johnson, at least they hung out together. They can discuss writer’s block! And get drunk together! Now, that sounds like some great theater!”

Nearly forty years after Bingo was written, I find myself wondering what the point was in remounting this weak show. Where we’ve gotten used to excellent wordsmithery (the ideal home for an actor such as Patrick Stewart), instead we are given an utterly uncompelling two and a half hours polluted by modern speech patterns, relationships, and concerns. Yes, the enclosure act was happening at the time this play was set, yes, Shakespeare left his (invisible in this play) wife a bed in his will, but I could not once believe the words that came out of the characters’ mouths had any basis in an Elizabethan reality.

And Shakespeare himself is set up as such a non-entity, his greatest acts (in this play) being 1) rolling around in the snow and 2) shoving the pages of his will under a door. Otherwise he says and does almost nothing while his daughter (Catherine Cusack) complains about how much better he likes his friends in London, and an important farmer with an improbably American accent (matching his Chicago school of economics nonsense at least) convinces Shakespeare to keep his yob shut in exchange for a guaranteed income. Meanwhile a sequence involving a homeless woman being gradually ground down by her inability to find work or a place to live (highly relevant to modern goings-on) seems to ultimately go nowhere, other than providing a set piece for the second half of act one; her effect on the people she has met seems to ultimately count for nothing in the arc of the story. And if this is the case, then what was the point in the first place?

Take out the boring and pointless scenes of this play and what are you left with? Patrick Stewart falling down drunk while “Ben Johnson” (Richard McCabe) talks to him about writer’s block. Does any of the rest of it matter? Not really. Stewart barely hits the levels he is capable of as his character spends most of the play mute. It was a shocking waste of talent all around. For your money, I’d recommend going to hear the bard’s own words at the Midsummer currently on at the Lyric Hammersmith; your time will be much better spent and you won’t end your evening with such a bitter taste of disappointment in your mouth.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, February 18th, 2012. It continues through March 31st.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Bingo – Young Vic”

  1. Chantal Says:

    The homeless woman was not wasted! In fact, her “hanging” dead at the end of the last scene before the interval was far more interesting than *anything* the characters below her were saying. It really was that bad!!

    My personal highlight was the banging noise while Shakespeare was playing in the snow. I was kinda hoping it was an exploding lantern…

  2. Zoe Says:

    Completely agree. Patrick Stewart is a quality actor but he’s wasted in this. I found watching the audience more interesting!

    I saw Saved when that was revived at the Lyric and I’m surprised it’s the same playwright. The high point for me -which doesn’t say a lot- was the snowball scene: “A hit!” I really wanted to stand up and scream “A VERY PALPABLE HIT!”

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