Monday, 19 March 2012


Off to the Young Vic to see the revival of Edward Bond's 1970s classic Bingo, a play which speculates that Shakespeare, for all his poetry and apparent empathic understanding of the human condition, actually spent his final years, back in Stratford supporting local land enclosures, which prevented the peasant class from feeding themselves. He has become a self-loathing protective reactionary, unable to grow old gracefully or to justify his new found wealth.

Patrick Stewart plays the Bard, staring, empty eyed at the dull parochial concerns of retirement in a small market town, his only solace a drunken night out with his old London rival Ben Jonson, played with bile and balls by the wonderful Richard McCabe.

But my how this play seems to have dated when performed in these days of spectacle and visual metaphors. Written at a time when socialists still had an eye on revolution the central point that art is meaningless unless it's allied to political struggle seems, post-Thatcher and Blair, frankly barmy. The debate on land enclosures drags on and even Bond's visceral poetry seems clunky, despite Stewart's best efforts to bring it to life.

I wish I could say the production had real force, but sadly all we're left with is the sight of a great Shakespearean actor wrestling his hero into all too human form. Fascinating and voyeuristic, sure; but it's a mighty long way from the great leap forward so eagerly anticipated by Bond and his playwright colleagues back in 1973 .

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