Despite the heavyweight cast Bingo, the Patrick Stewart-lead play about our most revered playwright’s final days, was as flimsy and insignificant as Shakespeare’s body of work is heavyweight and vital.
We know very little about Shakespeare the man, and we don’t learn much more about him from Bingo, other than that he was a curmudgeon who liked making snow angels, hated his wife and daughter and couldn’t take his booze.
An enclosure bill sub-plot carves its way as randomly as a landlord-drawn border through the narrative and there was a half-hearted story involving a downtrodden peasant woman who seems to serve little purpose other than drawing out a more human side to grumpy old Will. For the thrust – if we can call such a passive storyline something as dynamic as a “thrust” – of the play was the contrast between Shakespeare the playwright and Shakespeare the man; a man who wrote so eloquently of the human condition on the page, shows little sympathy or understanding towards his fellow beings in real life. He’s an empty shell of a man, bereft of any real feeling – as he tells his daughter Judith (Catherine Cusack) he can’t even hate with any real passion. King Lear (who is alluded to in the promo literature) he ain’t.
There was a fabulously comic turn from Richard McCabe as a drunk playwright – Ben Jonson? – with writer’s block who alludes to “killing a man in a tavern”. But that brief respite couldn’t lift the play above the mediocre. You can always tell when a script lacks a backbone when actors resort to my theatrical bugbear – running on stage, to create a sense of drama and urgency where there is none. And talking of bugbears – why did so many of the cast have such strange accents?
Maybe the ultimate message about this play was that is brought into sharp relief how vital Shakespeare’s plays remain.
by Suzanne Elliott