Stellar Quines



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


The Lover


Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

I was sold on this production from the moment I saw it featured Susan Vidler, whom I’ve long admired. (It’s 1997, there’s a TV movie everyone’s talking about: Macbeth on the Estate. Vidler gives the best portrayal of Lady Macbeth I’ve ever seen. There’s been a score of contenders since, but she still wears the crown.)

In The Lover, she plays a very different role. She’s The Woman, both mother and future self of The Girl (the child is mother of the woman, I suppose) and almost the sole voice of the play. To clarify, she live-narrates the story of her past, and also provides a recorded voice-over for other actors who mime flashbacks. In the flashbacks, she’s The Mother; Amy Hollinshead plays The Girl. And it’s all very clever and artful – perhaps too much so?

Still, based on Margeurite Duras’s novel set in 1920s Saigon, this co-production between the Lyceum, Stellar Quines and Scottish Dance Theatre was surely never aiming for the mainstream. It’s a complex tale of love and loss, of colonialism and privilege, of innocence and experience. If ever a tale were to lend itself to a dual-form adaptation, The Lover is surely it: its poetic language ripe for interpetation in this way.

Directed by Fleur Darkin and Jemima Levick, The Lover shows how dance and theatre are complementary arts. The literal and the metaphorical are interwoven in the telling, The [poor teenage French] Girl’s love affair with The [rich Chinese twenty-seven-year-old] Man (Yosuke Kusano) a slow, sensual unravelling of accepted social norms. The gulf that develops between her and her family; the way she is subsumed by her sexuality: these are beautifully conveyed.

But it’s not an easy watch. That voice-over – so intricately worked, so delicately spoken – has such a distancing effect that it renders all emotion mute. The very control and precision of the movement makes the sex scenes curiously staid, a notion that is heightened by the Ken and Barbie genitals suggested by flesh-coloured underwear. And perhaps I’m being a bit dense (I haven’t read the novel; this may be made clear there), but I’m not at all sure what the deal is between the girl and her big brother, Paulo (Francesco Ferrari).

There is artistry and skill a-plenty here; it’s a beautifully constructed piece. Will it be a big-hitter, a seat-filler? I’m not convinced on that score. A play to appreciate, maybe, rather than one to enjoy.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield