Bingo at the Pleasance Theatre
After Alan Flanagan walked into the permanently closed door of his sexual health clinic, the writer was inspired to pen a new play about London’s LGBTQ+ culture and sexual health. Iwona Luszowicz reviews this one-man show.
Cormac Flanagan’s been dealt the list to end all lists, he announces near the beginning of this one-man tragicomedy. ‘HIV. Hepatitis C. Syphilis. Herpes. HPV. Chlamydia. Gonorrhoea.’ We’re at the doctor’s surgery and his GP is reading out the results of his recent blood-test. Then comes a word that Cormac may or may not hear his doctor mutter after diagnosing him with pretty much every STD in the book: ‘Bingo!’
Did she really say it, though, or did he just imagine it? That’s for us to find out, and the uncertainty and unexpectedness of this would-be remark set the tone for the rest of the piece. What’s touted as a show about life after diagnosis is as much about sibling relationships, the joys of the DLR, the sorrows of zero-hour contracts, and a fictional detective series starring Amy Adams which is, somewhat unexpectedly, a springboard for some of the funniest lines of the evening.
Over the course of the hour, the narrative lurches between Cormac’s life pre- and post-diagnosis, the skilfully colour-coded stage lighting helping to orientate the audience in the temporal yo-yo of the more and less distant past. It makes for a fast ride, and one where we’re hanging on to Cormac’s Irish lilt for fear we may miss a beat. Swift transitions between a tragedy that struck Cormac’s family shortly before his birth and his adult rage lend the latter an emotional depth and poignancy that a linear narrative structure may not have achieved. Despite a minimal stage set – it consists of a single office chair – Flanagan has created a show with a sense of exuberance and immediacy.
Where the production falls down somewhat is in Flanagan’s reliance on witty one-liners. There are too many of them, they’re not always that funny, and the delivery of them is sometimes forced and too openly eager for a response. Flanagan the writer could do well to give Flanagan the performer more space just to be present in front of the audience without trying to make them laugh. This would help us connect to what can at times seem a remote figure. Likewise, while Cormac’s story is adept at eliciting a range of emotions in the audience, the repertoire of feelings he himself displays is limited, which can create a sense in viewers almost of being cheated. Cormac’s lack of emotional complexity is particularly noticeable in his reaction to his sister’s question of why: why did he go for month after month and year after year of casual sex without using protection. His consistent anger and refusal to label his actions as wrong are striking, but the question deserves a more nuanced exploration than it receives. Nevertheless, as Cormac ricochets across the stage in his swivel chair in the closing scene, fast-forwarding into a happy, fulfilled future, it’s hard to feel anything but firmly on his side.
Bingo will play at the Pleasance until the 24th June, 2018.
Feature Photograph Credit: Lidia Crisafulli.