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Reviewed: Bongo's Bingo XL at Leicester's Morningside Arena

Covered in Coco Pops, we went back to the 80s.

Bongo's Bingo players from Niche Magazine pose for a photo at Morningside Arena Leicester
Kerry, Katie, Sharon and Tom try out Bongo's Bingo

Famous (or infamous) for crazy prizes and riotous fun, Bongo's Bingo came to Morningside Arena, the home of Leicester Riders, this August.


It was an 'XL' production with a 'Back to the 80s' theme. We gave it a go to see what all the fuss was about.


KERRY’S TAKE

The true meaning of organised chaos, Bongo’s Bingo has created a safe space for people to lose their inhibitions, go with the flow, live in the moment, and just get the hell over it (exes, work stress, whatever your ‘it’ may be)!

Probably seen as more shy than wild on a night out, I thought the concept might not be for me. Initially… Walking into a packed-out Morningside Arena – feeling slightly daunted by the rows and rows and rows of bench tables and crowded bars – I was handed a bingo book and pen and found my designated table on the front row where I sat down with my three workmates.


Simple, concise drinks and food menus appealed to me, meaning I didn’t have to stand awkwardly at the bar being my usual indecisive self for any more time than was necessary. The queues went down quickly with swift-yet-attentive staff and we were back at our table in no time.


‘This could be horrendous, or it could be epic’, I remember thinking while watching someone dressed as a Care Bear dance with his mates in the aisle. Oddly, despite my slightly nervous energy, hearing DJ Jimmy Sweets shout down the microphone, ‘Get on your f*@^ing feet’ at the crowd had me instantly raring to go for the craziest game of bingo ever. He introduced three male dancers with alter egos like ‘Filthy Faye’ and ‘Kinky Kate’ – and they danced their socks and skirts off the entire night.

Bongo’s Bingo was created by an Irishman, Sweets explained to those who were listening – those who weren’t might have been confused by the crowds ‘yips’ that came with every number ending in eight, and the Irish song breaks that came with every 33.


Eighties in theme, and marketed as an XL show, it was a wild throwback of a night. It certainly felt ‘extra-large’ but I’m unsure how this event compared to others having never been before. The prizes were epically unique with a Henry Hoover, a lifetime supply of Coco Pops, celebrity cardboard cut-outs, a Rubix Cube minifridge full of booze, retro boardgames, Space Hoppers, and cash prizes of up to £1500 up for grabs.


I found Kevin Routledge, the director of the building and chairman of Leicester Riders, standing on the sidelines, smiling proudly at the chaos before him. He seemed genuinely happy for us all to be there having an absolute blast, despite the fact I felt we were ever so slightly wrecking the joint. The clean-up team must be professional standard.


The queue for the ladies was frustratingly long at all times, but when is it not? Aside from that, I had an absolute blast and I can’t wait for the next round of Bongo’s Bingo events coming up around Christmas time!


TOM’S TAKE

For context, I don’t drink. Let me tell you what actually happened…


For the uninitiated, walking into Bongo’s Bingo feels quite a lot like walking into Sodom & Gomorrah. Even now, I try not to look back on the night for fear of turning into a pillar of salt.

Perhaps the ultimate example of “rolling it in glitter”, the actual bingo part of the evening is entirely unchanged from any other bingo game. The rules are the same, and if I’m honest, you could probably remove the game entirely and have a pretty similar night. Bongo’s Bingo is not about the bingo – but it does provide much needed structure to what would otherwise be an orgy of dark fruit cider and confetti canons.


We arrived at 6:30pm. The first game of bingo was advertised to start at 8pm. The better part of 2000 people were already there when we arrived and had apparently been drinking for some time. With many dressed in their finest 80s regalia, we spotted everyone from Madonna to the Care Bear man to Hulk Hogan. There were leotards and legwarmers aplenty. Neon and permed wigs to spare. As press, we’d been reserved a table at the very front of the arena, which placed us much closer to what I assume to be state-of-the-art loudspeakers than I would typically choose.


While Kerry claims that the DJ’s yell of ‘get on your f*@^ing feet’ was enough to get her on board, I suspect she may have already had a drink by then. There can be no doubt – this is a very drinky event. I don’t have any problem with that – I’ve been around drunk crowds most of my adult life, and you’d be a fool to step into the building without being prepared to embrace it. But let’s call a spade a spade – by the time the actual bingo started, I may have been the only sober person in the crowd.

If anything, this amused me, as my three colleagues had all made claims about how they weren’t planning to get too involved… Yet by the end of the night, one was dancing on a bench (four hours earlier, she’d insisted that would NOT be happening), one had screamed at the mere sight of a dancer’s exposed bum, and another had accidentally flashed her own, while trying to crawl under the barricade to get on stage… They shall each remain nameless.


But do you know what – they had the right approach. You’ve got to embrace it. It’s organised, communal, mass chaos, and if you don’t jump in with both feet, you’ll be miserable.


That said, in a very sweaty venue, sitting in the front row, I could’ve done without the aforementioned year’s supply of Coco Pops being used to “make it rain” across the first few tables – I was covered in chocolate dust for the rest of the evening, which felt pretty grim. Admittedly, had I been drunk, I probably wouldn’t have cared. If that sounds like a thing that would bother you, don’t sit at the front.


Yet I must admit, I was enjoying myself. Time spent with my friends and colleagues outside of work was a welcome delight. Even without drinking, I get a life-high from watching others enjoy themselves, and knowing that even in the chaos, it’s safe, silly fun.

In reality, Bongo’s Bingo is an elaborate DJ set with intermittent bingo breaks. There are prizes, crowd participation, dance breaks, tribute acts (Whitney Houston, Freddie Mercury, and Tina Turner), and more than one rave. It’s as much entertainment as the structure of bingo is physically capable of bearing, and do you know what? I wouldn’t do it every weekend, but if you go with people you love, it is a great night out.


The next Bongo's Bingo events in Leicester take place on September 24 and 30 at Athena. There are also shows throughout October and November, with three special Abba-inspired 'Winner Takes it All' productions in December.

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