Thursday, 1 March 2012

Theatre review: Bingo - Scenes of Money and Death

I'm wary, to say the least, of Edward Bond plays ever since Saved triggered a genuine depression attack a few months ago. But tonight's trip to the theatre had been booked for ages, and Vanessa's tendency to fancy older men extends to Patrick Stewart, so I braved Bingo with her. William Shakespeare didn't spend the end of his life writing and performing, but increasing his wealth back in Stratford-upon-Avon through money-lending and land. Taking this, and the fact that his relationship with his family appears to have been poor, as inspiration, Bond imagines the playwright's last days as a very dark, despair-filled time. We start with the Enclosures Act which will evict many of the local poor but which landowner Combe (Matthew Marsh) convinces Shakespeare to turn a blind eye to by promising to make up any loss of earnings from reduced rent. So despite his reservations, Shakespeare fails to support the poor and so has a measure of guilt for the unrest that comes later. His lack of action also has tragic consequences for a girl (Michelle Tate) who comes begging to New Place.

Bingo is subtitled Scenes of Money and Death and this is very much what we get over the next couple of hours, seen through the eyes of a man whom Stewart gives a very recognisable depression which makes him empathise with those in trouble yet unwilling to do anything to help. Meanwhile he's casually unkind to unloved daughter Judith (Catherine Cusack) while the ill Anne Hathaway is never even seen. Fortunately even if it accurately depicts depression, I didn't find myself in any risk of feeling suicidal this time, but it remains a very dark experience. Stewart's surrounded by a strong cast including the wonderful Ellie Haddington as his housekeeper and Alex Price as her angry son, while Richard McCabe's all-too-short appearance as a bombastic Ben Jonson brings some welcome, if dark humour to the piece. I found what ultimate point Bond is trying to make elusive, which makes the relentless misery harder to take. But director Angus Jackson and designer Robert Innes Hopkins undeniably create some gorgeous imagery on the thrust stage, most notably when Shakespeare is given his own version of Lear's most iconic scene: The madness replaced by drunkenness, the rain by snow, it's also the play's best and most moving scene.

Bingo - Scenes of Money and Death by Edward Bond is booking until the 31st of March at the Young Vic.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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