Sunday, 5 July 2009

Everybody Loves A Winner - Royal Exchange, Manchester

Everybody Loves A Winner
Writer/Director: Neil Bartlett
Reviewer: Gemma Longfellow

The International Festival is now underway in Manchester, bringing a wealth of new talent and creative events to the city, and Neil Bartlett’s ‘Everyone Loves a Winner’ is a fabulous addition to the line up. Commissioned and produced by the Royal Exchange Theatre and Manchester International Festival, the show is full of energy and surprises, which create an experience that is far from ‘traditional’ theatre and encourages the audience to interact with the characters and action on stage.

Set in ’The Rex’ bingo hall in Manchester, the action follows a typical day for those who work at and attend the bingo. The audience gains an amusing and at times heart wrenching incite into the thoughts and lives of the staff and thirteen Rex regulars, exploring issues including loneliness and hope. Bartlett skilfully portrays the back-story of all the characters through the play’s dialogue, and short monologues that draw the audience back to the heart of the issues being explored. This occurs amidst an undercurrent of comedy that flows throughout the play, portrayed through, amongst other things, fights between players and musical interludes. With the opportunity to play a live bingo game during the show, the play feels more like an evening of entertainment than simply a performance, and it enables the audience to empathise with the characters’ struggles and passions.

The show work’s excellently in the Royal Exchange Theatre, with the audience in the round, facilitating close interaction with the cast. This helped to breakdown the mentality of the audience as onlookers, and developed the idea that they were attending the Rex as bingo players. This was emphasised with a clever use of the front-of-house lighting that enabled the audience and cast members to establish eye contact. Bartlett and his set design team created a convincing bingo atmosphere with slot machines, neon lights and an excellent background soundtrack at the theatre entrance along with a very convincing set comprising broken old seating, a callers stand and manager’s booth. At moments during the performance I forgot that I was in a theatre. The props subtly echoed the religious metaphors that ran throughout the dialogue.

The cast excellently revealed a slice of Mancunian life, portraying believable and strangely loveable characters. The chorus of ‘regulars’ successfully established their individual characters, aided by impeccably accurate costumes, whilst communicating the collective experience that they shared. Alexander (Debbie), Henderson (Joy) and particularly Sollars (Joe) provided stand out performances as the Rex’s teenage staff. Their hilarious musical renditions, classic teenage comments and attitudes, and convincing local accents kept the play fun and drew the audience into the action. Sally Lindsay played Linda the bingo hall’s Manager superbly, convincingly revealing a woman who was trapped in her job and haunted by her own disappointments. Her final speech to Debbie and Joy was excellently executed and very poignant, even though the content bordered on cheesy.

Suitable mainly for adult due to some use of ripe language and gambling restrictions ‘Everybody Loves a Winner’ is a unique and fun experience that draws you to consider the ‘whys’ of life. It is an excellent way a spend a summer evening during July, and who knows you could be a winner!

Photos: Jonathan Keenan
Everybody Loves a Winner runs until Sat 1st August 09
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