Alan Flanagan on his new play which imagines what happens if you contract every STI

Bingo

Being diagnosed with a single health issue can be a traumatic experience. Worries about what the future holds, from the possible pain to the trials medication could bring. But what if you were diagnosed with everything?

That’s what Alan Flanagan’s new play Bingo imagines, as he play an Irish immigrant who is diagnosed with every single STI going (hence his nickname Bingo).

At a time when cuts to sexual health are having serious consequences, Alan told us why now is the perfect time for this play, and why he hopes ‘the straights’ come and see it.

Bingo is at the Pleasance until 24th June.


What is Bingo?

Bingo is a ridiculous dark comedy about a guy called Cormac. He’s an Irish immigrant on a zero-hours contract, and an absolute mess of a human being who goes for his first STI check-up and learns he has everything, so he’s labelled with the nickname Bingo. It’s about what happens in your life when you receive tragic news, then more tragic news, and then it becomes a joke. And about how you deal with the first ten minutes, 24 hours, week and month after that news.

Why STIs because you could’ve picked from a plethora of tragic situations?

It came to me randomly while I was at a check-up. There’s always a little gap of silence before they tell you that everything’s fine – or not – and in that gap I thought ‘what if they turn to me and tell me “you’ve got it all”’. There’s also something really interesting with how we balance humour and tragedy. I don’t know if it’s an English/Irish thing, but there’ something about receiving bad news, but knowing if you tell anyone they’ll sort of laugh. It’s so bad and so tragic, it becomes ridiculous.

We can all relate to that…

Exactly. I was told a story recently about someone who fell in a canal. It’s such a weird thing that it’s quite funny, but also, it’s not a very nice thing to happen.

Are you not trying to tackle the stigma of STIs then?

A big reason why I wrote the show was because I live in Harringey and the nearest clinic from my house is ten minutes away. I would jog there every three months for a regular check-up, and one day I ran there and literally ran into a locked door. There was a small poster that said ‘we’ve shut down’, but they hadn’t told anyone.

I was so angry, and that’s what’s happening all around the country. People are still uncomfortable talking about sexual health. If you’re a government and you need to make cuts, you do it in places where people are embarrassed to talk about. It’s so stupid because you can manage and cure pretty much everything, the only issue in sexual health is people not getting check-ups. If you put £1 into sexual health, you get £11 back because you’re saving yourself what happens later on.

That’s interesting. You can see an increase in checks being offered around the country in pubs and clubs around the country; charities who are going to the people, rather than relying on them to go out and seek checks.

Exactly. It shouldn’t have to rely on charities, and it’s becoming worrisome that we’re relying on charities to do work that governments should be doing. And the end results of that is, well, America. It’s important for those charities to be there, but they shouldn’t have to be. Why should be giving people this information in schools. Sexual health should be considered part of the day-to-day.

Who do you hope is going to see the play, and what do you hope they’re going to take away from it?

The straights. Gay people have been fighting the good fight for sexual health forever. It’s always been our burden, our celebration, our thing to do. But my heterosexual friends tend not to go for check-ups or what drugs are available or what to do if you contract HIV. They don’t know these things.

If you had to convince someone to come and see Bingo, what would you say?

Don’t worry. You’re going to have a big glass of wine and from the very first moment you’re going to have a great time because from the very first moment, the goal of the show is to make people laugh. You’re not going to see a big issuey play or required to tweet about it. You’re going to come along and have a big old laugh.

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