Friday, 28 September 2012

Bingo! It's Edward Bond.

Edward Bond's play Bingo, whose central character is William Shakespeare, was first performed at the Northcott Theatre, Devon in 1973, and revived the following year at the Royal Court in London, with John Gielgud in the role of Shakespeare, where it proved an unlikely box office hit for Bond. The attraction of Gielgud as Shakespeare, in a scenario in which Shakespeare kills himself, proved irresistible to playgoers, and the theatre was forced to turn many away, myself included. It was revived once more in 1995 by the Royal Shakespeare Company on a double-bill with The Tempest, when I finally saw it and bought the T-shirt.

The central theme of the play is, to quote Bond himself, 'the relationship between any writer and his society'. He approaches this through an imaginative exploration of the final years of Shakespeare's life, when the poet has retired from the London theatre and is back in Stratford upon Avon. Here we see townspeople suffering from his business activities, specifically his part in the enclosing of farmed land resulting in loss of employment and an increase in the price of grain. 

The play also has scenes of Shakespeare's domestic life, of which less is known than of his business transactions, and his 'merry meeting' in a tavern with Ben Jonson, where Jonson calls him a 'patronizing bastard'.

The plays most recent revival was in February 2012 at the Young Vic in London, with Patrick Stewart in the central role.

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