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The Bingo-themed comedy musical set for a Full House

This week sees the launch of hilarious new musical comedy Bingo! - about friendship, forgiveness and wishing for more at the Bingo brought to you by two multi-award winning Scottish theatre companies; site-responsive specialists Grid Iron and Stellar Quines, who celebrate the diversity of women and girls. For International Women's Day, we spoke to Stellar Quines Producer, Rebecca Davis, to find out more.

Jane McCarry, Jo Freer, Wendy Seager, Louise McCarthy, Darren Brownlie, Barbara Rafferty - credit Mihaela Bodlovic

Tell us about Bingo! What can audiences expect?

This a new musical comedy with cracking original songs, a lot of banter and cheeky humour co-written by Anita Vettesse & Johnny McKnight, with music by Alan Penman. It’s a play about camaraderie, friendship, parenthood, and strength in numbers, but also about hope, and ‘that’ fantasy that we all have - of how our lives might change with that big win.

You can expect to join a group of women at their regular Bingo! night, until it takes a very unexpected turn and then you’re all in for a night at the Bingo! like no other.

This show is proof that whether you’re winning or losing, it’s the taking part and your friendships that count.- Rebecca Davis, Producer

The bold, bright, sparkly stage will be full of some of Scotland’s finest talent. You’ll recognise lots of them from the stage and musicals such as Sunshine on Leith and The Steamie, and TV Shows such as Still Game, Two Doors Down and Rab C Nesbitt. They are an incredibly talented company and really are stellar on stage together. There’s some scenes in Bingo not to be missed, Barbara Rafferty dancing with a Henry Hoover, Jane McCarry wrestling with a puggie….

And the songs are catchy and fabulous (I have been singing and dancing round the house to them for weeks). Expect to laugh (a lot), maybe cry, be moved, surprised, and definitely leave singing Bingo! Bingo! Bingo!

What was the inspiration for the Bingo hall setting as a backdrop to these characters’ stories?

Whilst Jemima was living and working in Dundee (as associate director and artistic director) she regularly went to the Bingo with the Rep lottery syndicate. Whilst they rarely won anything she was hooked. On the weekly trips she noticed the community of women in the Bingo halls, the seriousness of the game, and what the players were hoping for – money for a holiday, or a boost for Christmas. She knew she had to make a show about it, the makings of a drama were all there – a distinct community, family, hope, possibility, high stakes and FUN.

Jemima began talking to Jude (Doherty, Co-Artistic Director) at Grid Iron about it and Bingo became it. When Jemima took over the helm at Stellar Quines, it seemed the perfect opportunity to bring together two Edinburgh companies who share a mission to provide strong roles for women on and off stage. 

Some of the cast and crew went to a bingo night for research – how was their luck?

Not brilliant….but I know that Jude is now hooked, and has been to several different Bingo Halls across Edinburgh. Louise is our company Bingo pro. Myself and Rosie (social media intern) went to the Bingo! for the first time in readiness for the show. Neither of us won a thing, but it was a great laugh. You never know lady luck might shine on us another night.

You've got songs and laughs, but there are provocative themes too. How do you tread that line between funny and serious?

Well we have two fantastic writers - Anita Vettesse and Johnny McKnight - who have worked their magic on the script and the lyrics, so that it does move you between laughing out loud and shedding a tear. That’s life isn’t it? And the experiences we share with our friends and family – sometimes we’re laughing together, sometimes we’re crying.

Anita and Johnny have worked incredibly hard at distilling the essence of a night at the bingo into this show (reading everything from Government White Papers to listening to Annie Lennox), which we hope will evoke the same feelings of a fast, furious, sometimes stressful, bloody good night out. This show is proof that whether you’re winning or losing, it’s the taking part and your friendships that count.

The musical score provides the show’s heartbeat with an impressive range of songs and styles – tell us more…

We’ve had the wonderful Alan Penman composing the music who has over 25 years experience and is a hugely respected. The musical styles range from Soul and Country through to 70s, 80, and 90s and trust me you will be swaying and toe tapping in the aisles whilst you watch the show. As I mentioned earlier, I've been humming, singing and jigging my way home after hearing them in rehearsals.

How did the two companies approach this collaboration? What did each bring to it?

Jude and Jemima had been discussing the project before Jemima joined Stellar Quines in May 2016. Both Grid Iron and Stellar Quines share a mission to provide strong roles for women on and off stage, so this felt like the perfect project to collaborate on. It’s the first time to the companies have worked together and it’s been a truly collaborative process, with both of us also producing and presenting shows at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh Zoo, the Traverse and The Lyceum in between.

Although Grid Iron are best known for site-responsive work, this is far from the first time they’ve toured work for the stage and this isn’t their first musical either. Stellar Quines are known for celebrating women and girls on and off stage and the fact that we open on 8 March – International Women’s Day - is not coincidental. 

Grid Iron is a company with two amazing women in leadership roles, the production brings an amazing ensemble to the stage featuring some of the most talented women in Scottish theatre. Our creative team and crew feature female powerhouses in Scottish theatre (including our very own Jemima Levick Directing) in design, production and technical theatre, and we have supported young women on placements in Directing and Choreography.

It’s a perfect collaboration that’s based on many of the qualities of the play, and it’s been a brilliant journey to go on together.

The production introduces us to a cast of colourful characters. Do you have any favourites – who most deserves that full house?

No I couldn’t possibly favourite any of them! They’re all fabulous, and the brilliant thing is they are there for each other. I think you need to come and watch and decide who deserves that full house in the end…

It’s an impressive line-up of stars from the stage and screen, bringing a wealth of experience to the show...

It’s amazing we’re so lucky! They are absolutely the dream line up that Anita, Johnny and Jemima were writing for.

We've got Louise McCarthy (Daniella) of BBC’s Scot Squad and Two Doors Down, Wendy Seager (Mary) who played Susan in Killing me Softly and featured in Still Game, Barbara Rafferty (Joanna), star of River City, Brave New World, Rab C Nesbitt and The Last King of Scotland film, Jo Freer (Ruth) who starred in Dundee Rep’s Sunshine on Leith as well as River City, Darren Brownlie (Donny) known from Dundee Rep’s Witness for the Prosecution and BBC Scotland’s Scot Squad as well as Tron Theatre’s pantomime and Jane McCarry (Betty), Still Game’s Isa and Scottish pantomime star who also played Dolly in Tony Roper’s The Steamie and featured in Rab C Nesbitt.

Where can audiences see the show?

We premiere the show at Assembly Hall in Edinburgh tonight (Thursday 8 March - International Women’s Day) until the 17 March before heading off on our Scottish Tour to the Macrobert (22 – 23 March), Ayr Gaiety (27 – 28 March), The Brunton (31 March), Tron Theatre (12 – 14), and finishing at Eden Court (19 – 21). We’re excited to be opening at Assembly Hall, as we are the first show as part of their year-round out of August festival programme.

Full tour information and booking details can be found at www.bingocomedymusical.com.

  • Assembly Hall, Edinburgh: 7 March 7.30pm (previews) and 8-17 March 7.30pm (not Sunday 11), 10 & 17 March 2.30pm (matinees)
  • Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling: 22-23 March 7.30pm, 23 March 2.30pm (matinee)
  • Ayr Gaiety Theatre, Ayr: 27-28 March 7.30pm
  • The Brunton, Musselburgh: 31 March at 2pm and 7.30pm
  • Tron Theatre, Glasgow: 12-14 April at 7.45pm
  • Eden Court, Inverness: 19-21 April 7.30pm, 21 April 2.30pm (matinee)

Bingo - a musical comedy

Photo: Jane McCarry, Jo Freer, Wendy Seager, Louise McCarthy, Darren Brownlie, Barbara Rafferty - credit Mihaela Bodlovic

This article was published on 08 Mar 2018