Saturday, 22 May 2010

Chichester Festival: Bingo - 20 May 2010

Severe. Austere. Strict.

Edward Bond is a good reader of Shakespeare. Nowhere more evident than in the heterodox and brilliant The Sea (seen in an unforgettable production at the Haymarket with Harry Lloyd as the lead). As a biographer, here in Bingo (subtitled Scenes of Money and Death) he is unusual. Here he strips of William Shakespeare of his prominent feature: his love of words. Bond's Shakespeare is curiously inarticulate, silent at crucial times, his voice is low. As if he had grown wearing of always fighting for (and with) words. This is a weary Shakespeare but not a poor-health one; he is not fragile, he retreats by choice. Patrick Stewart's performance is full of restraint and alienness - confirms Stewart as one of the most exciting and risky actors nowadays, nevermind his experience and fame. He was in synch with the (sombre) tone of the production perfectly.

Like Howard Barker, Edward Bond is admirably stubborn. He has no use for the conventional worries of entertaining the audience in a predictable way, or offering an easy way out. It is almost taxing, seeing this Bingo of his. The narrative is barely there: glimpses of the last months of Shakespeare's life, barely a plot at all. The hero is no such thing: he sees injustices but he is too coward to do anything about it, too preocupied with his own status and comfort, when he regrets not helping out, it's too late, redemption is too feeble, his death is mediocre and petty. It is a grim business and you have to work hard through it. Bond is always demanding with his audiences. But there is much of worth to be found here. The sense of alienation, usual in Bond, works. It's not meant to be a period piece but you get the feeling that these are real people of their times, the clothes are worn just like the faces. The production works for the play and its ideas, it's austere but rich, the settling, the lights, everything, as a production is top-notch. The cast is solid for the most part, with the always reliable Jason Watkins, and hey how nice to see Alex Price, the best thing that ever happened to BBC's Merlin - he is one to watch, full of energy and anger and focus.

Chichester is worth a visit: Edward Bond is, Patrick Stewart is, and if not, there's always the Arundel Tomb and the gorgeous breakfasts at The Buttery.

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