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Bitter-sweet comedy centres entirely on a park bench
An innocuous park bench becomes the entire setting for this emotive bitter-sweet play that is currently enjoying a UK tour following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Bench, which I saw at the Lichfield Garrick theatre on May 10, crams a great deal of humour and pathos into its mere 60 minute duration. The play, which was created by Watch This Space Productions, tells the story of two men - the elderly Sandy, who is grieving a sad loss, and the younger, work-weary Joe who seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. But they have one thing in common - a desire to sit on the park bench that lies at the top of the hill. However, with the bench having been turned by Sandy into a memorial to the late Maggie, that is where the problems start.
The Bench stars Keir McAllister as Joe and Paul Sneddon as Sandy. Credit Andrew Laing
The Bench is written and performed by award-winning Scottish writer Keir McAllister who stars as Joe, who is looking for "five minutes of peace" away from the stresses of his job and life and finds only conflict. Alongside him is the equally outstanding Paul Sneddon as the stubborn, grumpy Sandy. The two of them have previously performed stand-up comedy together for years, which is why there is so much hilarious banter on stage, especially during a game of imaginary Celebrity Mastermind and when Joe discovers not only the reason behind the memorial, but also the actual identity of Maggie. The conflict begins when Joe moves some flowers laid on the bench by Sandy so he can sit down. But, despite their initial frosty encounters, Sandy gradually opens up about his grief while Joe feels able to reveal his problems in turn.
Animosity soon builds up between the two men. Credit Andrew Laing
Splendidly directed by Jo Jo Sutherland, The Bench successfully deals with vital emotional issues such as dealing with loss and loneliness on one hand and the stress and potential depression of trying to cope with everyday life on the other. But it never shies away from the comedy of the situation either, which makes it all the more enjoyable to watch. The Bench, which was staged in the intimate setting of the Lichfield Garrick's studio theatre, was followed by a post-show discussion about the play and the issues raised within it.
The play deals with loss and grief amidst the humour. Credit Andrew Laing