Review: Bingo Star

Bingo Star
Date: 18/03/2023

Where else to go for a theatre that has a bar in the auditorium and serves its audiences food prior to a play? Bingo, of course. Real-life actual bingo that’s part of the play, Bingo Star in this case, and real cash to be won by someone, somewhere, with a damp dabber.

RADA graduate, master of ceremonies and perpetually befuddled Royal Court regular Alan Stocks plays sadsack bingo impresario Arthur. With a daughter and granddaughter also in the family business, Arthur is massively invested in his bingo hall (called Bingo Star – Ringo nicked the name).

Literally, as it happens, and to the tune of several hundred grand. Lo and behold, providence appears to arrive in the shape of Paul Duckworth’s Tony, who has a job with the council (boo!) – plus an eye on Arthur’s daughter Lesley (Keddy Sutton) and more besides.

Also converging are Helen Carter’s husky-voiced, no-nonsense Debbie, whacked-put rock casualty and processed-meat obsessive Keyboard Keith (Jonathan Markwood channeling The Dude, Steve Coogan’s Saxondale and possibly Colin from The Brittas Empire) and Lesley’s daughter Bella (Paige Fenlon). Bella dreams of something a little more glamourous, Lesley might be looking for love. Debbie and Keyboard Keith? Mascara and spam are our guesses.

Together they need to plot a route to survival for the shagged-out theatre (and equally shagged-out owner) – and sing a few tunes, run a food bank and find answers to their personal problems along the way. Oh, and call some bingo.

Bingo Starr Royal Court

Is Bingo Star the first production to have actual games of bingo – for which the audience can wing actual sums of money? Quite possibly – and why not? The Royal Court is known for its audience interaction and general sense of ‘anything could happen’.

Interrupting the play with a real game of bingo could be a double-edged sword. It’s genuinely novel and engaging, but it does risk stopping the narrative in its tracks. For the most part the audience are into it and Stocks keeps things ticking over – the potential for winning £50 a go can’t do any harm either.

Where Bingo Star seems to falter is in the realisation. Writer Iain Christie (who doubles as the court’s media manager) knows his fork handles from his four candles and has provided some very funny lines and an engaging narrative. While the whole affair could do with a redraft to work out some wrinkles, the production, so often the saviour at the Royal Court, feels a little flat.

Bingo Star

Certified scene-stealers Duckworth and Sutton seem oddly subdued, while the often-brilliant Stocks seems a bit lost. Recent plays at the Court have been boosted by the ability and energy of the cast; here the production could do with a dose of what the Royal Court does best – some corpsing, fourth-wall-breaking, ad libbing – a sense that the cast is having as much fun as the audience. An off-the-leash baddie from Duckworth and a properly bonkers turn from Sutton feel missing from the mix.

But there’s a lot to enjoy. The songs are belted out with no mercy, the bingo makes for an unusual change-up and a last-minute intervention from Paul McCartney – an eye-rolling, O-mouth-making, Woooo!ing Macca courtesy of Tom Connor is clever and winning. It’s a dash of Royal Court insanity that the rest of the play might benefit from.

Bingo Star is a production that might be 89 – nearly there in bingo-caller parlance – but would benefit from going up to legs eleven.

Bingo Star
Royal Court
Until 8 April