Vern, Patsy and Honey regularly go to bingo together in their Pennsylvania town. Bernice used to accompany them until fifteen years ago, when she and Vern had a major falling-out, and the story of that fateful night is told in stages by the remaining gang of three. Bernice’s daughter, Alison, arrives in disguise to try to patch things up and from there the course of the story is predictable and in the end rather schmaltzy. However, that is to sell Bingo! short: it is a fun show with a generally feel-good air about it, catchy if not particularly memorable songs, and amusing moments given full value by Steven Lilly’s skilful direction; a slow-motion sequence at the climax of the story must have taken hours of rehearsal and is brilliantly done.
As a show, Bingo! probably doesn’t have the guts to stand up under the weight of second-rate performances, but in this production there are none of those. All of the female leads are skilled actresses and sing well. Vern is one tough cookie, a leader and something of a bully: Danielle Fletcher’s interpretation makes the audience really not like her very much, but we do feel genuine sympathy for her when she reveals her more vulnerable side in her big number, ‘Swell’. As Bernice, Carole Lilly is her match and makes it entirely credible that they were good friends but also that they fell out.
Patsy is a character full of energy and she is energetically played by Kathryn Thomas. It is very easy to believe in her as an American suburban housewife with limited horizons. Her voice is lovely, although it has a classical timbre that belongs more in the opera house than the bingo hall. Freya Burnside, as Alison, has a remarkably powerful voice and acts well, too.
Honey is a sexy bimbo who has had many husbands and 387 lovers – ‘387½ if you count circus folk’ – and must be a dream part for an actress, although there is the risk of going over the top. Vikki-Jo Keens avoids that trap and gives a memorable performance, not least in her rather sweet love song, ‘Gentleman caller’. This is a pun as her boy friend, Sam, is the bingo caller, and the dance that Kerry Butcher has choreographed for them to that number achieves the clever trick of being both comic and erotic.
Sam, the only male in the cast, is played with confident panache by Paul Rogers. A unique feature of the show is that the audience actually takes part in three games of bingo, which are run by Sam and Minnie, owner of the bingo hall (Catherine Moore). This requires the sort of ad libbing and connection with the audience that is normally only called for in a pantomime, but they both bring it off successfully.
The high standard of musicality reflects credit on the musical director, Alex Clements, and his three-piece band is supportive without being obtrusive. The functional set works well and the lighting by Martin Whitaker and Tristan Harris is excellent, not least because they have the extra work of lighting up a board at the back of the set to show the numbers as they are called.
This was my first visit to the Plaza and if everything RAODS do is to this standard, I shall definitely be going again (even if for a six-footer the leg-room makes a budget airline’s look generous). Bingo! is on again from 13 to 15 April at 7.30 and is well worth seeing – although, for reasons that will become clear, you may want to avoid seat C14.