Theatre & Comedy
Big laughs and big wins with Bingo Star at the Royal Court
3 weeks ago
A new bingo-themed comedy at the Royal Court doesn’t just deliver big on laughs for the audience, it lets them play along during the show to win cash prizes.
Bingo Star, which opens on Friday March 10, is the first play to be penned by the theatre’s marketing manager Iain Christie.
He wanted to create an extra connection between the show’s characters and the people rooting for them so came up with the idea of adding in actual bingo games.
“When you’re writing characters, they have to feel real and the best feedback you can get from an audience is that they go, ‘my mum’s like that’, or ‘that’s my uncle Tony’ because if people believe in the characters, they invest in them and that makes the jokes funnier and the sad parts sadder.
“I wanted the audience not just to watch what’s happening at this old-style community bingo club, but actually be a part of it.
“There’ll be three games during the show and the audience plays along. We give them cards on the way in and little pencils to mark off their numbers and if they get a line they win £50 then the show carries on.”
Iain has been with the Royal Court since the team behind Rawhide comedy took it on back in 2005. They started to produce plays a year or so later, and Bingo Star will be the 99th one Iain has seen staged. The only difference will be this one has his name on the credits.
It’s something he’s wanted to do for a long time, he says, and the first version of this play was first written 14 years ago.
“Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed, I did an English degree, and in a theatre there are stories flying around all over the place,” he says.
“I’ve always worked in theatre, when I came back to Liverpool from uni I went to see a show at the Neptune theatre, got a job behind the bar and from there it was front of house, backstage, box office, marketing, all within about nine months.
“Usually when I write it’s for press releases or programmes, but in 2008 I had the idea for Bingo Star.
“I sat down and wrote the whole thing in long hand in about 12 hours while we were on holiday and then I read it back and it was rubbish! So I forgot about it, then I did a playwriting course at the Royal Court during lockdown, it’s a free course we offer, and you have to write a play as part of that.
“I wrote a different play but the boss here, Kevin Fearon, never forgets anything so he said ‘right, now you’ve done the course, do me another version of Bingo Star.’
“It took about three or four Sundays, in between my full-time job, to get the first draft down because once you’ve got the idea and the characters in your head, it just tips onto the page.
“And I think it was good that I’d written it blind at first because now I know how to structure a play, 15 years on, and we’ve produced nearly 100 plays so hopefully I know what’s needed when, changes of pace, and what the audience might like.”
Bingo Star is set in a bingo hall somewhere in Liverpool that finds itself in financial trouble and under threat from a new shopping development. Bingo caller Arthur, and his family and friends rally round to try and save it and the big thing keeping them going is a £1million national bingo game at the end of the month.
“I think there are a lot of laughs in it, but there’s also heart and community,” says Iain, “so it’ll make you feel all warm inside by the end I hope.”
Although this is his first play as a writer, Iain’s day job has given him the opportunity to learn from the finest.
Alan Bleasdale, he says, is his number one inspiration.
“For me, he’s the best of them all. When you work in a theatre you meet people all the time who have massive profiles and most are lovely. With 99% you just go up, shake their hand and say hi, but when I met Alan Bleasdale my legs turned to jelly because I think he’s an absolute god in what he does. Luckily he’s also one of the nicest men and so kind and generous with his time.”
With 98 already in the bag, Iain’s a veteran of opening nights but he says Friday’s will be a very different experience.
“I’ve managed to stay relatively calm through the process but I know that on Friday night I’m going to be in absolute bits. What I’m really looking forward to is hearing the first laugh because when you do, suddenly you go, it’s OK, they think it’s funny. I’m hoping to hear that first laugh nice and early and then I might be able to relax.”
Bingo Star is at the Royal Court from Friday March 10 to Saturday April 8.
Get tickets here.