Barbara Rafferty



Assembly Hall, Mound Place, Edinburgh

A joint production by renowned theatre companies, Grid Iron and Stellar Quines, this comedy musical is an ambitious project. It’s not easy to stage a riotous musical with a small cast and no live band or orchestra. Given these limitations, Bingo! punches well above its weight, with gutsy, energetic songs and performances to match.

Set (where else?) in a bingo hall – staffed by the lovely Betty (Jane McCarry) and her sidekick, Donny (Darren Brownlie) – it tells the tale of world-weary travel agent, Daniella (Louise McCarthy). She’s fed up of living at home with her mother, Mary (Wendy Seager), and feels left-behind by her best friend, Ruth (Jo Freer), who’s not only been to university but has got herself a teaching job, a husband and a baby. Daniella is bitter and sad; she wants a bit of glamour and excitement in her life – and that’s what a bingo win can offer her. Oh yeah, and it just might provide an answer to a more pressing problem too, such as how she might replace the money she’s ‘borrowed’ from the holiday kitty she’s been entrusted with. Throw drunken old lady Joanna (Barbara Rafferty) and her Henry Hoover into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a perfect set-up. Sit back and see what happens next!

There’s a whole lot of lovely in this show. I’m especially impressed by Jo Freer, who has an easy naturalism; there is real depth to her portrayal of Ruth, which goes well beyond ‘convincing.’ But she’s in good company: these are all skilled practitioners, showing their acting chops. The choreography is good, and I really like the lighting and the set. There’s a bit of a problem with the sound towards the end of the first act, but it’s all back on track after the interval, so it’s not a big issue.

But there are some negatives, not least the fact that Bingo! sometimes seems unsure of what it is. The dark comedy juxtaposed with tender relationships works well; the social commentary is less convincing (Daniella bemoaning how little money she earns doesn’t make me feel particularly sympathetic, for example; she still has money over after she’s paid for rent, bills, food, take-aways, nights out, clothes, etc.). And there are some details that stretch credulity, such as the big money prize being paid in cash, making the recipient a target for anyone who wants to get their hands on it.  (I asked a reliable source – a regular bingo player – who told me it’d definitely be paid directly into the winner’s bank account.)

Still, these niggles aside, this is a funny, enjoyable production, and you could certainly do worse things with your evening than spend it in the company of these hopeful gamblers.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield



Endgame - pic 14 (0499)Endgame - pic 03 (0126)


HOME, Manchester

Endgame is a bleak play – by any standards. “The end is in the beginning – and yet you go on,” says Hamm, with a fatalistic, morbid acceptance of his looming demise. The script is deft, funny and thought-provoking – of course it is; it’s Beckett; his place in the theatrical canon is patently deserved – and the acting and direction here are pretty top-notch too.

Let’s deal with the elephants in the auditorium: Roy Cropper and Peter Barlow. It’s true – actors David Neilson and Chris Gascoyne are both well-known for their parts in Coronation Street. And it’s a fame that the promoters have been keen to exploit: on the publicity posters for this play, the men are instantly identifiable as their TV counterparts; on stage, however, they are barely recognizable. I’ve never really understood why people are confounded by an actor’s ability to perform a different role; it’s kind of in the job description, isn’t it? And these two are very good indeed.

If anything, it’s Beckett who feels over-familiar, not the actors performing him. The audacity of his ideas has been diluted – by time as well as exposure. And yet this production is still well worth seeing: it’s a masterclass in precision and control. Chris Gascoyne’s Clov is a perfect clown, a physical embodiment of futility and despair. There is humour here too, in the repeated movements and the spiteful asides, and comic timing of the very best. David Neilson is equally skillful: his Hamm is a raging, wasted, tragedy of a man, whose cruelty is wrought from desperation; I felt a glimmer of sympathy for Hamm tonight, and I never have before. Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty (as Nagg and Nell) give strong performances too; indeed, the saddest moment in the play is theirs, I think: roused briefly from the dustbins where they are living out their final years, they reminisce, recalling the April afternoon they went out rowing on Lake Como. “We had got engaged the day before!” “You were in such fits that we capsized.” The dreadful contrast between this happy memory and their current circumstances encapsulates the agony that underpins Endgame. They are us, aren’t they? And still we go on.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield