Home / Drama / Bingo – Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Bingo – Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Writer: Edward Bond

Director: Angus Jackson

Reviewer: Frank McKenna


Patrick Stewart as William Shakespeare safe guarding his financial future at the expense of his tenant farmers may not initially seem like an ideal evening out. Angus Jackson’s revival of Edward Bond’s 1974 play opens the Festival 2010 season in Chichester.

The play, set in the seventeenth century, has several parallel plots – Shakespeare’s internal struggle to plan for his retirement, the open greed of the wealthy landowner in the form of William Combe and the struggle of the down trodden common people to make ends meet. Combe, a Stratford politician, encloses the common land so it cannot be farmed by local people. Shakespeare supports Combe in exchange for the security of his own land..

The intimate setting of the Minerva theatre makes the audience feel part of the production. The set, designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, is cleverly multi-faceted and is used to great effect to direct the audience through the seasons of the play with imaginiative uses of the space and props. This production is authentic with it’s seventeenth century costumes.

Patrick Stewart has appeared in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (as Malvolio) and Macbeth (in the title rôle) in Chichester before. Now he plays the writer himself. He sparkles everytime he is on stage – but that could be the light reflecting on the earring in his left ear. Lack of dialogue in sections meant that he looked restrained in his performance. There were a few star set pieces where his skill and on stage presence shone – especially the bear baiting speech. He is convincly troubled when he realises the impact of his decision and the effect it has on local people.

There are fine supporting performances. The politically driven powerful landowner William Combe played by Jason Watkins is forcefully manipilative. John McEnery is touching and childlike as Shakespeare’s gardener. Ellie Haddington as The Old Man’s Wife and Shakespeare’s housekeeper is gentle and motherly. Michelle Tate as the displaced young beggar woman whose end is graphically depicted is realistic and persuasive. Catherine Cusack as Shakespeare’s puritanical and selfish daughter Judith is suitably mean and convincing. Richard McCabe as Ben Jonson lightens the atmosphere and brings some welcome comedy to the piece.

This production is a slow burner but the pace is picked up in the second act and The local farmers all speak in broad dialect which at times was difficult to follow. The issues of the seventeenth century – was money more important than the welfare of those less fortunate ?- were relevent in the 1970’s when Bond wrote this and they remain relevent today. This piece makes for a thought provoking evening out.

Runs until 22nd May

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  1. I went open minded to this show. I have met Edward Bond and seen his plays. I love Shakespeare and have seen Patrick Stewart perform many times and I am a drama teacher of many years. What a disappointment this was. Lots of words all saying nothing. The point about the effect of the enclosures act was laboured, the writing long winded and stilted and the characters all unsympathetic. Patrick Stewart did an amazing job with a part that failed really to deliver any depth. the experience put me in mind of the Emperor’s new clothes. We are all afraid to criticise and tell the truth about an icon…
    great acting cannot compensate for a script that stretches out a 15 minute story into a full evening.

  2. Very well said Lynne – and almost totally right! Laboured, confused, long-winded, with dislikeable characters. Some fun with Ben Johnson and dirty gardener/trollop who was hanged, but if anything these jarred. This is a boring play, with a poorly written, flat, self-pitying and ineffective Shakespeare….. I do not agree about great acting, but certainly a poor evening (first half dreadful, with an almost totally silent Stewart and a very annoying staged garden gate!!) 8-10 people left at the interval). Avoid.