Writers: Anita Vettesse and Johnny McKnight
Director: Jemima Levick
Composer: Alan Penman
Reviewer: S.E. Webster
Pens at the ready! Eyes down! It’s fun, entertaining and contains only minor bloodshed. Not your average night at the theatre – much better in fact! A new collaboration between Stella Quines Theatre Company and Grid Iron, Bingo! focuses on the trials and tribulations of a group of friends when a seemingly average night out at the bingo starts to unravel and begins to go horribly wrong. A lively and energetic musical comedy currently treading the floorboards at Edinburgh’s Assembly Hall it’s an unmissable highlight of this theatre season.
The cast have a strong background in TV and stage comedy; many of the audience will recognise the familiar faces on stage from hit BBC shows like Scot Squad and Still Game. Blessed with flawless comic timing, the chemistry they share on stage is electric. The atmosphere in the theatre is one of high octane energy that’s sustained throughout the show – no mean feat given the small cast and long running time of the show.
Indeed, whilst it’s a thoroughly absorbing and entertaining show, at times it does risk being somewhat unwieldy because of its length. If a few minutes were shaved off the running time the overall effect would be to tighten up the drama and quicken the pace of the action. The first half is a pleasurable, yet slow burn.
Nevertheless, the success of the show owes a great deal to the searingly funny script. The jokes are woven into the fabric of the ordinary dialogue as much as the musical numbers, and one of the show’s main strengths is relying heavily on the verbal comedy, thereby avoiding a descent into too much slapstick silliness.
What’s most refreshing of all is to see a majority female comedy cast not merely performing on stage but succeeding at their craft and giving the audience a masterclass in how to be funny. So often there’s not enough representation of women on stage in the comedy circuits. And yet Bingo! is a prime example where a comedy musical drama that focuses on women’s lives and features women is not only moving and entertaining, but is hilariously funny and has the audience rolling around in their seats in stitches. Women are funny and these women are star acts. They are also incredibly good at balancing light with shade – for example, Wendy Seager’s solo is deeply moving and is perhaps the musical highlight of the evening, whilst Jo Freer’s devastation at her friend’s betrayal feels authentic and honest.
A wonderful surprise is, however, the cast’s singing skills. There are some lovely harmonies and both Darren Brownlie (the sole male actor in the show) and Louise McCarthy should be particularly congratulated in really cementing and holding the group together during the musical numbers. Very occasionally a solo singer from the cast will seem slightly less confident, particularly on the higher notes, and it would only take a change of musical key to rectify this – most of the cast are stronger when singing in a lower more alto range.
The fabulous set design by Carys Hobbs also deserves recognition – a clever use of what is a very small space with some impressive attention to detail. The set’s not merely a backdrop but is a functioning part of the drama, from the TV screen to the slush puppy ice drink machine; everything has a place and is there for a reason; they’ve clearly thought about not only how the actors can perform in the space but how the audience can become immersed in that same space with them.
Glittering, dazzling and entertaining Bingo! is a comedy delight and essential entertainment in Edinburgh this season.
Runs until 17 March 2018 | Image: Mihaela Bodlovic