Last night we went to see Bingo by Edward Bond.
We were all pretty fed up with it, and bored at the absence of character or plot development.
I've since had the chance to think about it, and I sort of understand it better now.
Edward Bond is a avowedly Marxist playwright. He thinks he's the English Brecht. He's not writing entertainment – the point of the play is to drive home a point. In this case (as so often) it is that the process of capitalist development involves brutality and cruelty, which is graphically depicted on the stage and described off it. The point is introduced early on the play – Shakespeare meets the nasty Coombs character, who explains that his plans to enclose the common will hurt the poor but benefit the town in the long term. In a short speech he manages to articulate the main principles of capitalist economics – the self-regulation of the market through the price mechanism, the re-allocation of resources to more productive uses, and so on.
The rest of the play is just driving this home. There isn't really a plot, we just see the full implications of this being played out. The poor do suffer, the vagrant girl is hanged, violent disorder and protest is crushed with greater violence. The Shakespeare character is perhaps a proxy for the middle class audience that Bond expects to be seeing the play. He is unhappy about the suffering but is concerned about his own financial security, and so refuses to act. Most of the play shows him not acting, and meditating on the fact that he hasn't.
Unsurprisingly, this is not very enjoyable to watch. If there is another theme, it is that the family – particularly relations between parents and children, but also between husband and wife – are based on deceit and disrespect, not love. Both of the families depicted are unhappy, though the wife in the servant family is at least kind to her mad partner, while the wealthier Shakespeare is not kind to his mad wife.
So no plot really – just a long speech about the misery of capitalist accumulation, in period dress and with Shakespeare as a character because it's a play.
Here is the link to the good Wikipedia article about the play http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bingo_%28play%29
By the way, the other playwright in the tavern is Ben Johnson – Christopher Marlowe was dead by 1593, and the play is set later, around 1615, when Shakespeare is old.