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Bingo, The Young Vic

Edward Bond
Directed by Angus Jackson
★★★

Pros: Patrick Stewart gives one of several great performances in this beautifully designed play. 
Cons: Edward Bond’s self-righteous play borders on dull. 
Our Verdict: One for the big time Stewart fans, or those who like Bond, but don’t expect a rollercoaster of a ride! 
Courtesy of Tristram Kenton for the Guardian
Chichester Festival Theatre is on a bit of a run, churning out some brilliant productions perfect for transfer to the West End. Sweeney Todd, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Top Girls, South Downs and The Browning Version are productions just from the 2011 season that have transferred, or shortly will. Sadly, this 2010 revival of Edward Bond’s Bingo can’t be said to be another hit to add to the list. Despite the draw of Patrick Stewart it’s a bit of a fizzle, a damp squib. 
Bond’s portrayal of Shakespeare sees the man in his autumn years reflecting upon what he has achieved. A creeping bitterness, stemming from the belief that his actions in writing about other people have forced him to revel in their misery, fill his thoughts. On top of this, his relationships with his daughter and wife are strained. While he can happily talk to his servants, he tells his daughter how he hates her, and expects much the same in return. He hides from a screaming wife behind closed doors, and feels more compassion for a young beggar woman than for anyone he actually knows.
The first act is, to be blunt, dull. Bond is no doubt trying to saying something about how art and money are intertwined to a level that forces unpleasant actions from those involved, where they could in fact be acting to promote the interests of the poor. But what we see is a lifeless Shakespeare moping around his garden. He conducts perfunctory business to ensure his money is safe, and contemplates the injustices of life. 
Patrick Stewart is, of course, wonderful. This is, not the first time Stewart has performed this role. He seems oddly drawn to it, which I have to say I can’t fathom. This role does little to really highlight the true depth of his talent, but every word and action coming from him does radiate the depth of despair Shakespeare has fallen into. He glides around the stage, and despite the limitations of the material, is the crowning glory of some great performances. 
Another highlight of the play is the glorious performance by Richard McCabe as a riotously drunk Ben Johnson who comes to visit Shakespeare in Stratford. His taunting of Shakespeare, while failing to rouse any passion in the man himself, certainly allows the audience some moments of distraction from the otherwise cheerless play. Catherine Cusack is also incredibly moving as Judith, Shakespeare’s hated daughter. Her frustration with her father is palpable.
A note must be made of the wonderful stagecraft that takes place through the play. The seasonal transitions are beautifully done, and Tim Mitchell’s lighting adds to the striking backdrop on which the scenes are played out. It would also be unfair not to mention Michelle Tate’s performance as the young beggar woman, notable especially for the brilliance with which she perches on a small ledge and plays dead – a true feat in standing incredibly still! 
The whole play feels like Bond is labouring the point that Shakespeare has grown to realise he has not really done anything with his life. It feels like Bond is trying to get one over on Shakespeare, to ask, despite the eloquence and intelligence of his plays, what he has really contributed to civilization. But in all honesty I can say I have gained more insight into society, and certainly enjoyed myself more, watching Shakespeare’s plays over the years than the evening I spent with Bond’s portrayal of the man himself.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

Bingo runs at the Young Vic Theatre until 31st March 2012.
Box Office: 020 7922 2922 or book online at http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/bingo

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