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4.9 stars out of 5

Bingo Star – Royal Court, Liverpool

Reviewer: James Mac

Writer: Iain Christie

Director: Emma Bird

Given the international success of popular night out – Bongo’s Bingo, (originating right here in Liverpool) and the triumphant track record of sell out Scouse comedies at Liverpool’s Royal Court, this culmination of home grown theatre mixed with immersive bingo-dabbing brilliance, makes the Court’s latest offering, penned by Ian Christie, a winning formula.

Ian, is a dab hand at understanding what the audience at the Court want to experience in the theatre and it’s no wonder – he’s been at the venue since 2006 as its marketing manager! His carefully crafted comedy gives us lovable characters, a farcical plot, and a lorra lorra laughs. Not to mention some bangin’ 80’s tunes thrown in for good measure. Along with the theatre’s dining experience and its cabaret style seating in the stalls, it’s the fact that this one-of-a-kind theatre produces a programme of original writing, all year round, that cements it as a trailblazing UK arts venue, doing what no other commercial theatre in the country is doing.

The element of playing real bingo amidst the unfolding on-stage drama makes this production a real interactive outing for its audience – a totally unique theatrical experience. Not forgetting there’s 3 chances to get those eyes down and win £50 quid within the show.

We follow Arthur played by Alan Stocks, owner of the Bingo Star, and his family, who have ran the place for 50 years as a labour of love, but Arthur’s crippling debts mean the future of the club very much hangs in limbo. As if in answer to their prayers, a fella from the council turns up on the scene, (Paul Duckworth) complete with a creepy goatie and big plans to regenerate custom. Their prayers seem to have been answered… what could possibly go wrong?

Emma Bird’s direction keeps us glued to the unfolding plot and creating a lovely sense of play for the barmy band of characters. She allows the cast to navigate perfectly between the world of the plot and the much anticipated “bingo time,” slipping seamlessly between fourth-wall breaking and snapping back into the thick of the on-stage drama, moving the story along. Amongst what is, for the most part, a pretty blithe comedy, Christie’s script along with Bird’s direction set up some really poignant moments of pathos in the pockets of the otherwise happy-go-lucky plot. In particular, a heart-warming scene from a nuanced Alan Stocks and on-stage daughter Keddy Sutton really warms your heart, with an unexpected twist making a beautiful touch. No spoilers here but huge kudos to the writer and director for this moment, which is subtly and understatedly acted by Stocks and Sutton.

There is zingy dynamism from the trio of strong women in the cast. In fact, it’s this triad of ladies on a rally to sustain community effort and save the beloved Bingo Star who really steal the show, bringing much of the warmth, heart and spirit. Royal Court regular Helen Carter – provides the biggest laughs of the night as tough-nut Debbie, the bingo hall’s brand-new singer. A comedy stock character but given dimension by Carter, Debbie is a concoction of Nessa (of Gavin and Stacey fame) and Mimi Maguire from Shameless, with a bit of Kat Slater thrown in there too. She’s fiercely loyal, hard as nails but totally lovable. Trapped in the 80’s but someone you’ve definitely met in Cooper’s or Woody’s on a rogue night out in town. Carter has graced the Royal Court stage in a plethora of roles over the years – a real chameleon with bags of powerful stage presence, cutting comedy timing and stellar vocals to boot. She really knows how to land a punchline, with many stand-out gags in this show, all timed to perfection whilst living and breathing her character through every subtle movement and expression. Not to mention leading the uplifting musical numbers with effortless vocals.

On the subject of great vocals, Paige Fenlon puts in a star turn as Bella. Her gorgeous vocals soared to the rafters, in particular, her stellar rendition of Blondie’s Call Me. Jonathan Markwood as Keyboard Keith is a great addition too- an instantly recognisable character. Bizarre, batty, but someone you’ve definitely met in a working man’s club or on the bus into town. Comedy comes in spade loads – especially in a dinner scene led by Keddy Sutton and Paul Duckworth as Tony – which is no surprise given the comedy chops on these two accomplished character actors!

Olivia Du Monceau’s set was, as usual for the royal court, a fantastic playground for the actors – multi-levels and swinging doors allowed for the fast-paced, farcical action. The twinkling tinselly lametta mixed with the peeling paint perfectly captured the (almost) forgotten era of the Bingo Hall. The revolving stage allowed the action to steer into the back of the club. It all framed Keyboard Keith’s on his keyboard centre stage perfectly. The fly in projection screens added a modern touch, featuring surprise cameos from some familiar Liverpool faces.

Overall, this is a real feel-good show with loads of audience interaction, toe-tapping tunes and laughs guaranteed, thanks to it’s stellar cast and direction. It’s a culmination of drama, music and BINGO, which makes it without doubt one to take your nan to. Would highly recommend for a fun theatrical night out with your friends or family!


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