Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Eyes down for a full house

The Bingo Caller

Hall Green Little Theatre


STEPHEN Jackson's world premiere of his play The Bingo Caller opened to a full house, appropriate give the subject, and not only sported  a sparkly gold lame jacket, the ultimate in posh naff, but also an equally shining silver lining in the shape of Marcus Hendry.

Hendry stepped in at the last minute – or at least three weeks ago – when the original actor for the role of the bingo caller, who had apparently had had the script for months, decided he needed more time to be ready.

As writer and director Jackson explained to the audience at the start of the show, with dates set, programmes designed, posters printed, and audiences virtually arriving on the doorstep, that was hardly an option so the actor took his bow and left.

So enter Marcus, plunging in at the deep end - no bombing allowed - as the world's greatest bingo caller Buster, a title not awash with competition, but in the world of Buster bingo is king.

And enter prompt Heather Matuozzo who was elevated from sitting in the corner ready to throw in the odd word if the odd moment of desperation arose to becoming half a double act.

Jackson and Hendry knew they would never be ready for a conventional performance but shunned a rehearsed reading in favour of a script in hand performance – with the script in the hands of Heather.

Hendry used her in the role of a confidante in the audience whenever he needed to be guided, with questions to her such as “Now what was it he said to me?”.

As his relationship with the audience grew the questions became more blatant, less contrived, such as “What comes next?” but no one cared, Hendry had succeeded in making it part of the performance. This was no longer an actor who had not had the time to become word perfect in a 90 minute one man show, but an actor who had turned a major difficulty into an integral and funny part of the performance.

Buster has been the bingo caller at Binley-on-Sea Caravan Park for 23 years and his number has been pulled from the pot – he has been sacked.


Bingo cards in hand, the audience are witnessing, and playing, his last game as Buster reflects on his life and chain-smoking mentor, the late, great Jimmy Mullard, bingo caller extraordinaire at the Acock's Green Bingo Hall.

Through a mix of funny one liners, corny jokes, old jokes, bad puns and food impressions – don't ask – tales of an aunty with giant ear rings, a whirlwind marriage and divorce – a lot of wind involved in that one - and a Catholic neighbour in a hospice we end up at Binley and new owners Call Me Jeff and Call Me Suzie. Buster does not get on with Jeff – and does not get off with Suzie – and sees his whole cosy, comfortable life about to be flushed down the pan.

The play drifts between funny and pathos with a character who sees himself as a star, an entertainer at the top of his profession, with bingo calling as his life yet who still has to do odd jobs, including unblock the toilets, at a northern seaside caravan park.

He talks of the future of bingo as if it really has one and when his own future and his beloved bingo calling are threatened by the sack, he lashes out and burns his bridges so well that there is no way back – even when one is offered.

Hendry works the audience beautifully, incorporating stand-up into his bitter-sweet tale – as well as making regular prompts all part of the act in a memorable performance.

Writer Jackson is a regular at Hall Green, but usually on the Malteser munching side of the footlights, down among the audience.

This is his debut there as a writer but he has been shortlisted in the past in playwriting, poetry and monologue competitions, has written a children's book and runs a greetings card company.

Full of enthusiasm he is using the performance as a workshop and is already talking about changes and rewrites and even invited the audience to find him in the bar afterwards to tell him how they thought the play could be improved. The double act format, out of necessity rather than choice, funny as it was, made it impossible to properly see the structure and flow of the finished article, as written, but the solid basics seem to be there and now Jackson is looking for polish.

Along with a comedian friend he took a comedy show involving bingo to Edinburgh and has always had a feeling that Bingo was a good subject for a play, and on the strength of this, he could well be right. A most entertaining evening. To 27-04-13.

Roger Clarke

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