“The contradictions in Shakespeare’s life are similar to the contradictions in us. He was a ‘corrupt seer’ and we are a ‘barbarous civilization’. Because of that our society could destroy itself. We believe in certain values but our society works by destroying them, so that our daily lives are a denial of our hopes. That makes our world absurd and often it makes our own species hateful to us.”, says Edward Bond in the introduction of his play “Bingo” that will be on at Young Vic Theatre until the end of March.

Those who experience what exactly Bond says in their chaotic daily lives but can’t describe the situation as clearly as he does, will be leaving their seats with the same question in their minds: “How long have I been dead?” just like Shakespeare does in the end of the play. However when they open the Young Vic’s door to the most absurd world ,where all their human values are trivialised and all humans are valued with the money they have ,after the play will they be able to ask the same question until they find the answer and stop the destruction? Will they be able to afford the truth without being a murderer or dead? Shakespeare could not, in fact, chose not to in Bingo, but that cost him a lifelong inner war and suicide in the end.

Patrick Steward as Shakespeare and Richard McCabe as Ben Jonson in Edward Bond’s Bingo at Young Vic Theatre.

When Patrick Steward appears amongst the audiences and walks to his garden all in brown outfit as Shakespeare, real mixes with unreal, past penetrates into present and one year of his life takes two hours of our future. It is 1615 winter, the year when Welcombe enclosure takes place, aged Shakespeare is at his Warwickshire house after long and prolific years in London. He looks tired,withdrawn,all in his own world.All he does and wants to do is to sit in his garden and think,but will people around him let him do that?

Audiences become imaginary and  play becomes real, when a poor woman shouts at Shakespeare for help behind the garden gate , that is placed between two rows of seat.It becomes obvious that stage is not big enough to satisfy the director Angus Jackson ‘s appetite for perfectionism.

The poor woman begs for money ,Shakespeare ,who is too far from where he is,most probably in the world of ideas,reacts  slower than his old gardener. The old man manages to let  her in, touch her breasts and hides her in the back to have sex with later, until Shakespeare goes in to the house to get some money for her. She is beaten and hungry. We see violence, poverty and deep division of the society in her. Will Shakespeare, who hates his ill wife and own daughter Judith, insults them  in every opportunity, tries to love them with money and slowly corrupts them, do something for the people like the poor woman  in the town or will he let them suffer as a powerful artist?

Big land owners Mr Combe and his two friends persistently ask Shakespeare to stand on their side for his own benefit during Welcombe enclosure which  they want  to begin soon.Mr Combe asks Shakespeare to sign a contract to secure his lands and rents but in return not interfere  enclosure of the common fields once in the first scene. When he comes back after six months Shakespeare says:“I want security. I can’t provide for the future again. My father went bankrupt when he was old. Too easy going.” and signs the contract. People in town begin to suffer, violence, poverty increase, Shakespeare begins to die slowly from that point on and he asks himself:

“What does it cost to stay alive? I am stupefied after suffering I have seen.”

He is also  hated by his author friends like Ben Jonson( Richard McCabe) who says: “I hate you because you smile. I hate your health, I am sure you will die in a healthy way. Well at least you are dying.”

Shakespeare lies down in the snow just before the play ends and asks again just like his characters transfer their insights to the audiences in his plays: What is the ice inside me? The plague is hot, this is so cold. Truth means nothing when you hate. Was anything done, was anything done?”

Socialist playwright Bond collected historical facts about William Shakespeare’s acts on Welcombe Enclosure ,that are hardly mentioned in any of Shakespeare’s biographies,from E.K.Chambers.Bond’s Bingo was  premiered in 1973 at Northcott Theatre in Devon and revived many times before it came to Young Vic Theatre last week.

  1. Malcolm Steinberg says:

    ‘Truth means nothing when you hate.’ and the threat of ‘nothing’ is that of a horrid bomb, lives lost or existence in hell. There is room for nothing else. When hate descinds and rules the throne there is room for only one… and Shakespeare was the master of recreating worlds for the lives of his characters and ours… Bond has create one for the master it seems.

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