Slushy machines and garish carpets: bringing the spirit of the bingo hall to the stage
The designer of the touring production of Bingo! explains the show's inspirations and the difficulties sourcing a vintage carpet
"We should go, all of us. Let's get it organised!" Starting a project with your director offering you an opportunity to win £10,000 isn't the norm in my line of work. However, when Jemima Levick asked myself and my co-designer, Becky Minto, to go on a research trip with the Stellar Quines and Grid Iron teams to the local bingo hall, I knew it was going to be a supremely fun project to work on.
Our initial visit to the bingo in Edinburgh sadly didn't lead to any of us dramatically increasing our pay cheques, but it was a brilliant opportunity to observe and start to really get into the psyche of our script and therefore begin to construct the bingo hall world our six protagonists would inhabit until the end of their Scottish tour later in April. We created our own research book with a lot of photos of the walls, the loos, the bar, the podium, sketched some costume designs straight from some of the ladies there and were guided through our first bingo experience by a lady in the booth in front of us who could tell from a glance we had no idea how fast and intense bingo is when it gets going.
When Jemima approached Becky and myself to design Bingo, it was with the knowledge that whilst you can be abstract with pieces, scripts sometimes make very specific demands of their designers. Johnny McKnight and Anita Vetesse's Bingo! is one such show. From slot (puggy) machines to toilet cubicles, a working bar (with a slushy machine!) a callers podium and various fire safety items. All of which were very much required elements to allow key plot points play out (in ways the audience very rarely see coming).
Whilst we wanted our set to embody the slightly faded interiors of the bingo halls we visited as research we also needed to add a good dollop of theatricality to our world, where our cast frequently burst into song, and dream of their visit to the casinos of Las Vegas. Therefore our straight from the 1990s pale wood and royal blue dado rail finishes were joined to the Vegas-esque world with bright magenta glitter and blue and red moiré effect rowlux walls. The kite shape of these walls allowed us to squeeze all the necessary elements into our world whilst still being versatile enough to tour into a wide variety of different sized venues.
There was a bit of a competition to find the most garish carpet
Designing as part of a team was a brilliant experience as we bounced ideas around on how to fit all these elements into a seven metre stage width and put our stamp on a heightened reality set. Some of my favourite times were sitting with Becky making our brightly coloured model box late into the evenings; putting the world to rights and frequently saying exactly the same thing at the same time. It also led to a bit of a competition to find the most garish carpet still produced. Sadly the brightly coloured patterned carpets of the 1990s youth clubs and pool halls are no longer widely available - 2018 carpet buying clientele very rarely straying from a neutral tone. However, Becky eventually lucked out and found our bright purple striped carpet at a very reasonable price.
We put a box set musical into a venue that isn't always a theatre for our first run at Assembly Hall on the mound in Edinburgh, which could have been a total nightmare. However, setting up venues isn't anything new to the brilliant Grid Iron production, tech and SM teams, so our wee bingo hall came into being with very little trouble. Our set arrived in Edinburgh from the wonderful set building team Pretty Scenic, just as the Beast from the East started to emerge. It heralded one of the most memorable tech periods of my career as well as a flutter in the stomach which reminded me that theatre is truly magic and sod the snow, the show must go on.
Bingo! runs at Tron Theatre Glasgow from 12 to 14 April and at Eden Court in Inverness from 19 to 21 April.