Fame or Finesse?

Last week, I went to see Edward Bond’s Bingo at the Young Vic theatre, starring Sir Patrick Stewart as Shakespeare himself in this tale of the bard’s last few years back in his home.

It goes without saying that watching Stewart from the front row was mesmerising – he is a phenomenal actor, and anyone who can deliver a 10minute monologue lying down and still keep his audience enthralled is a force to be reckoned with. Returning himself to his native accent too, Stewart was comfortable in the part, not overplaying it. In this play Shakespeare was, after all, just a bitter and tired old man.

However, I found Bond’s play to be somewhat dry. The writing, though true to the language of the time making Bond not dissimilar to Shakespeare, was nothing extraordinary, and the plot itself seemed to amble along like so many others. I was reminded of Lark Rise to Candleford, performed at Richmond Theatre in 2010 –a similar sense of nostalgia was held within the story which didn’t seem to give the audience with any particular energy.

Some of the cast did stand out – Ellie Haddington played the simple, kind-hearted maid and I have no qualms in saying that she at times outshone Stewart. Comical but deeply sensitive, Haddington’s final scene was the most moving moment of the play. Yet others seem to ride on the audience response to Stewart, muddling accents and delivering lines to show him off rather than live in the words.

This got me thinking – had Patrick Stewart not been in this piece, would I have gone to see it? I’m slightly ashamed to answer ‘No’ – the story didn’t interest me, and there was nothing to draw me to such a play aside from its famous face. Could it be said, therefore, that the play was only produced with a ‘celebrity’ in mind for the lead character, as a way to draw audiences in? This method has of course been used since Shakespeare’s day – plays that featured ‘hot’ actors of the time such as Richard Burbage sold far better than those that held only unknowns on stage. I wonder if this is a good strategy or not – it is true that because of their leading man, the audience was diverse and contained a few more Trekkies and X-Men than most.  But I am not sure that theatre should ride on the name of an actor in this way; Bond’s plays should be produced in such a way that brings his writing to life regardless of the bodies on stage. It is something to take into consideration next time you head to the theatre – are you going for the playwright and the world of the play, or the star in the limelight?


One thought on “Fame or Finesse?

  1. Exactly the same thing happened to me last summer, only it was Stewart’s X-Men rival, Ian McKellen, in The Syndicate. McKellen was brilliant but the play was dire. It didn’t help that he decided against a fake Italian accent (a wise choice) while others of the cast either used one or swapped between English and Italian accents mid-sentence. However, I think sometimes it’s worth sitting through a rubbish play to experience a stellar performance.

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