Bingo, Young Vic, London
Friday 24 February 2012
I once received a very nice card from an actor who said that my trashing of his performance had made him laugh out loud.
It was a play about political correctness on the Australian camous and Shakespeare kept infiltrating the proceedings to protest against the po-faced, doctrinaire way that he was being taught. The actor's sweetness of soul can be gauged by the fact that what I had written was: "You feel that Mr X's Shakespeare would be hard put to quill a note to the milkman, let alone write Measure for Measure". Of course, these days, when there's been so much doubt heaped on the idea that the glover's son from Stratford could have composed such a brainy and learned canon, an actor playing Shakespeare often doesn't need to give the nothing-if-not-tricky impression that his version of Bard is possessed of an amplitude of mind and spirit preternatural enough to have occasioned the Complete Work. The thesp from the provinces was, on this reckoning, merely the front man for the rival claimants or to a committee of intellectuals who had somehow gained extraordinary theatrical know-how while being too posh to have direct dealings with the sordid stage or to publish plays (as opposed to poems) under their own name.
Several things are richly remarkable about this transfer to the Young Vic of Angus Jackson's excellent Chichester revival of Bingo, Edward Bond's 1973 play about an ageing Shakespeare in troubled retirement in Stratford, where this landowning worthy is beset by local bigwigs who want to buy his silence over the pernicious Enclosures, by worries over his will, and by the everyday cruelties of Jacobean life (the torture of bears, the execution on a gibbet of a female arsonist who was disinclined to keep her knickers up et al.) Chief of these is the wonderful discrepancy between Bond's unsupple and unsubtle Brechitian agenda in suggesting that the creative life is neither personal nor public compensation for failing to do something substantive about state-sanctioned and the truly Shakespearean greatness of Patrick Stewart's portrayal of Shakespeare., You entirely believe that he wrote those works-- and not because of any crude Rodin's "Thinker"-style attitudinising. With that beautiful bald brow and chiselled cheek, Stewart's Bard compels and tantalises because he's broodingly slippery, veering between anguish and that off-message unreachable quality (the equivalent in his life of the Keatsian "negative capability" exemplifies in his work). Catherine Cusack is superb as his daughter, showing you a potential soul mateddesiccated into resentful , old maid nagging. because of his paternal neglect, Richard McCabe makes an equally marvellous impression as Ben Jonson, Shakespeare''s reeling worldly boozing pal and great fellow playwright.; The fluent, production does Bond's stagecraft proud with its pictorial high-definition. Its performances exceed the text in quality.
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