Skip to content


Tenmen: The Lives of John Bindon
Published on Saturday, 04 June 2011

3.5 stars

Open House (venue website)
28 May, 5:00pm-6:15pm, 8:00pm-9:15pm; 24-27, 29-30 May, 8:00pm-9:15pm
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.

There’s a memorable line near the beginning of this play which goes something like this: give a man a mask, and he’ll tell the truth about himself. It’s a fair bet that ‘the truth’ is what the audience was expecting, having chosen to go and see this dramatic production about John Bindon – a character as notorious for his role as a hoodlum in real life as in his acting career. After all, the title is ‘Tenmen’, and one might be forgiven for assuming that one of the ten lives might reveal the man behind the mask.

Regrettably, although overall it was a powerful and compelling drama to watch, and comes recommended as a performance to see, this one-man play did not meet such expectation – relying instead on headlines to create the narrative. Surely there was a back-story to Bindon’s villainy? The programme states Bindon was “perhaps most famous for his ‘friendship’ with Princess Margaret” in the late 1960s, and relays well-rehearsed details of his association with the Krays, and acting parts in Quadrophenia, No Sex Please We’re British and Get Carter (amongst other films).  But if his life was remarkable only for his claim to fame, then really, why bother?

That said, the script was a very well-written, concise and dramatic monologue. Matthew Houghton’s performance was brilliant. For an hour he gave it his all, and stretched the script as far as it would go. It was punchy, visceral, passionate, and credible.

He was not helped by the set. At first it worked very well, with the character seated at a pub table ready to tell his tale. But this was off to the side; the main backdrop was what appeared to be an old basement, with junk and yellowing newspapers lying around, and a trunk conveniently placed for Houghton to stand on to lend an air of oratory to some of his speeches. It was evocative, and perhaps suitable for a character involved in a sleazy underworld of protection rackets and crime, but it’s unclear where it was actually meant to be. It clearly wasn't the Belgravia flat in which Bindon spent his last few years alone, a time when he might have been expected to go over his life and recount episodes in context. The grungy set could have been an effective contrast with Bindon’s reputation in the limelight, if only this had been brought out in the play.

After the applause had died down, the question of who John Bindon ‘really’ was remained unanswered. The lasting impression is of a two-dimensional figure created from newspaper reports which glamorised his public persona. For me, the script needs to be adapted to demonstrate research into primary sources (which admittedly will not be an easy option) – or else the writer might free-associate what it might have been like to be John Bindon, and develop the concept from there.

Still, definitely worth seeing.

<< Keep Taking The Tablets   Genteel Tipple Through Gi... >>