As an interactive play, with the audience taking part in a game of bingo with proper cash prizes — £200, £20, £5 — Everybody Loves a Winner works. It is a bit of fun and you do get sucked into the moment and think: ‘tonight could be my lucky night!’
Most of us, of course, leave the theatre as losers and it’s by this device that playwright Neil Bartlett intends to makes us feel a little of what his characters feel every night. This works, but only to a limited extent as we don’t share the addiction that has the Bingo ladies queuing up every day at 10.30am.
Good fun at the time, Everybody Loves a Winner is on reflection empty and unsatisfying. The play’s worldview is built on the most negative preconceptions of Bingo Halls. The Rex is a rundown venue unloved by the faceless corporation that owns it and its predominantly working class, middle-aged female customers are losers looked down upon by its staff.
While we play bingo with them, we never really get to know the Rex’s regulars as they are too busy repeating a chant about ‘the maybe tonight’ to reveal themselves. From what little is revealed, none seem very sympathetic. Pathos is shoehorned in and we are told rather shown how a bingo lady feels.
At the end, the manageress makes a convincingly inarticulate speech at one of her staff, who is a bit of a dreamer. Her warning not to leave life to chance seems to come from nowhere. If this is what the play was intended to be about, it failed.
[Everybody Loves a Winner is a Manchester International Festival commission and is at the Royal Exchange until 1 August 2009.]