Posted by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green journeys to The Young Vic and finds a sombre, thought-provoking study of ageism as William Shakespeare faces up to his later years.

BingoDon’t be misled by the title, Edward Bond’s 1974 play Bingo, revived in a new production directed by Angus Jackson at the Young Vic Theatre SE1 has nothing to do with numbers or gambling, although it is subtitled “scenes of money and death”, but centres on the brief period between Shakespeare’s retirement and his death.

With the glory years of London and fame behind him, William Shakespeare is struggling with ageism and also faces an overwhelming moral dilemma – like his greatest creation King Lear, he has to decide what he should do with his money and property? In particular, the Bard, now a depressed, emotionally frozen figure surrounded by grim poverty and social injustice, is worried about a deal he was persuaded to sign with the local greedy landlord/ bigwig to protect his property in return for not opposing land enclosure a move that will starve local families.

This is both a political and philosophical drama, fictitious, though based on fact that concentrates on character rather than incident. Despite a lack of narrative drive and a few longeurs, it presents a vivid picture of the brutality, of a society that relishes, hanging and bear baitings. When Shakespeare this unsuccessfully to help a homeless beggar girl, raped for a few pence, by his weak-minded gardener and she is later seen suspended an onstage gibbet, he laments “Every time I put on my clothes, I was the hangman’s errand-boy!”

Director Angus Jackson elicits a compelling, charismatic performance by Patrick Stewart, who captures the pity and terror of the brooding Bard, at odds with his daughter Judith (a fine, Catherine Cusack) and estranged from his wife, whom we never meet. He is strongly supported by Richard Mc Cable as a roistering drunken Ben Jonson, John Mc Enery as his sly, bearded gardener, and especially Matthew Marsh as the heartless local “fat cat”.

This may not be the Shakespeare we all know and love but it still provides a sombre, thought-provoking study of the man himself and the times in which he lived and shows that not even the Bard was immune from the problems facing us all.

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