at Assembly Hall

* * * - -

Ortonesque tragi-comic shut-in by Grid Iron and Stellar Quines is hilarious and thought-provoking.

Image of Bingo!
Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

It takes brave people to work up a new musical from scratch, especially one set in Scotland, in native patois and sited in a rundown bingo hall.

For Daniella (the star of the show Louise McCarthy), Ruth her BFF (Jo Freer), her mum (Wendy Seager) and their pals – “you’re like family, only nicer” – bingo’s a way of letting off steam and escaping menfolk, toddlers, the drudgery of low-paid jobs and the dreariness of everyday life. But grudges are not forgotten. It’s great ensemble playing, well choreographed by Darragh O’Leary (it needs to be with so many people on stage at once), great to look at (set and costumes by Carys Hobbs and Becky Minto) and is altogether keenly observed (from references to that fine delicacy chips ’n’ cheese to Ruth thinking she’s got cancerous moles, until she realises it’s just Coco Pops slittered down her cleavage). It comes as no surprise that writers Anita Vitesse and Jonny McKnight are River City stalwarts.

All, however, is not well in bingoland. Daniella’s spent the kitty that was to be used for a hen night and bus-drivers holiday to Las Vegas which “is like one big 24-hour Shell garage”. Daniella hoped to borrow the dosh and get a bit of retail therapy for herself while dreaming of winning the money back. Hopes that her imperious Ma, a TK Maxx tsarina, will bail her out are dashed. She doesn’t owe her daughter a thing.

What starts as a finely-tuned comedy about working-class female friendship and loyalty (with songs and one-liners) morphs into something stranger: like Dog Day Afternoon as seen by Joe Orton. A severed digit is bunged in the frozen Slush Puppie machine. “What panic button?” asks the manager (Jane McCarry), “we don’t even have a hand dryer that works”. There’s a further metamorphosis in the third part becomes a lament to failure and broken dreams that no amount of bingo wins or vod ’n’ coke will obliterate.

During the interval Abba’s Money, Money, Money plays. It’s a vivid reminder of the magic of pop: a simple message and a tune you can’t forget. The songs here don’t live in the memory and often the all-important lyrics are lost (possibly due to the acoustics of Edinburgh’s Assembly Hall, an odd choice of venue but, like the bingo hall, a place of worship) and the shifts from broad comedy to pathos are sudden. Never mind Creative Scotland, this co-production from Grid Iron and Stellar Quines should be getting a bung from Be Gamble Aware.

Life in a bingo hall, no matter how accurately observed, is a soft target. The depictions of Donny (Darren Brownlie) as the swishy gay man and gaga Joanna (an underused Barbara Rafferty) won’t please some.

It’s easy to sneer at the fallacy of the “Big Win” but Bingo! cleverly sidesteps such accusations. Some of the kinks will be ironed out on tour. The greatest trick of all that it pulls off is that it will appeal to urban hipsters as much as the bingo fans it has at its heart.