Desperation Bingo

Heather Marshall and Susan Marshall

Creative Electric

The Biscuit Factory

From 15 August 2017 to 19 August 2017

Rating: **

Review by Keith Mckenna

Some of the most vulnerable people in the country are on disability benefits or the newer Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which since 2012 have been replacing Disability Living Allowance.

These benefits now involve very stressful assessments that critics have argued are unfairly disqualifying people from benefits at an alarming rate.

Between 2011 and 2014, thousands have died after having their benefits stopped, and this is something that has increasingly been blamed on the government.

These are the kinds of things the audience hears about from one of the contestants in a surreal form of bingo taking place in the play Desperation Bingo at the Biscuit Factory.

Chanel O’Connor as the “glamorous assistant” welcomes us to the show and checks we are familiar with the game of bingo.

The flamboyant host (Nicholas Alban) arrives to tell us there is to be an unusual variation on the game. Three contestants will compete with each other to be the first when a number is called to describe something they have spent money on equivalent to that number.

The cash prize to the winner will be just over £82 which just happens to coincide with the weekly amount payable as benefit to those with a disability.

What the contestants say they spend on each call of the bingo number reminds us how little would have been covered by the meagre benefit entitlement.

In a final scene, the winning contestant (Rosalind McAndrew) tells us of the real people who killed themselves after their payments were stopped. She also gives us a worrying account of the way her own mother was treated.

This is an imaginative, interactive show with confident, committed actors. However I found the actual bingo game of crossing off numbers distracted from what was being said. The performance also seemed very hurried and, in the final scene, the microphone distortions didn’t help concentration.

The passionate speech that ended the piece had an impact on some in the audience who were nodding at the idea of charging Ian Duncan Smith with corporate manslaughter but I did feel a less busy focus on the political and dramatic heart of the piece may have made for a more successful and satisfying experience.