Tim McGovern, treats us to a spectacular review of ‘Six tales from a park bench’ directed by Lewis Aaron Wood.
The latest play by Shade Theatre was a marvellous success. This short play only clocked a time of a little over an hour, but contained enough to leave any audience member feeling truly invested into the piece by way of sorrow, sympathy and my favourite tool in the playwright’s arsenal, comedy.
This comedy is centred around a typical day in the life of one park bench in the middle of Hyde Park in London. The only witnesses to all of the events that unfolded were simply the bench, a lamppost, and a bin, all of which focused attention onto the action in front of us, simply and subtly. Most actors multi-roled in terrific fashion showing just how versatile and talented they are.
The audience were treated to a number of short stories and events that took place over 24 hours with only one recurring tale featuring. Two ‘favour dependent citizens’, ‘Sparksy’ and ‘Mitch’ (played wonderfully by Molly Costello and Daniel Moss respectively) weave together the stories that unfold in front of them in their home.
We see many characters from all walks of life. James Bentley and Hannah Timson deliver a very well performed scene in which ‘Brian’ does his best to convince ‘Angie’ that he isn’t the scumbag that he actually turns out to be. The strong Timson timed responses well and showed us a glimpse of someone we all know, but can’t quite place. You couldn’t help but laugh that less than a minute after Brian’s rejection, Bentley “scores” his next date, signed off with a very cheeky smile.
Timson goes onto then give a very powerful monologue recounting the events in the exact spot of New Year’s Eve 2015 of a lost friend. This showed how important memory and place link together and changed the dynamic of the piece thus far.
The audience was also treated to the incredible Stan Wildish and Annie Phillips for their roles of ‘Luke’ and ‘Maggie’ in what I have to say was one of the funniest scenes in a play I’ve seen. The outgoing Maggie tries to convince Luke to be the father of her baby, despite the two of them never having committed that sort of deed together. Timing was excellent and these two very talented actors gave the audience exactly what they wanted. A proper laugh out loud.
We got to see Phillips and Wildish again in another very humours scene. James Bentley (‘Rob’) and Phillips (‘Alice’) attempt to transact their first ever drug deal. I can only imagine how awkward people who have ever been in that position would feel watching how awkward Rob and Alice were. As a very normal seeming ‘Tony’ (Wildish) comes along, it shows just how “unfamiliar” Rob and Alice are. My favourite line of the whole play featured Bentley saying [apologies if paraphrasing]: “That’s not the dealer… he’s got a kid with him!”
The final character we are introduced to is ‘Jenny’ who until her scene had made cameo appearances throughout the play as the runner who won’t stop running. Rachel Addison does a great job in displaying a whole range of emotions which leave the audience in silence. Jenny finds herself talking to Mitch who has a special talent for reading people on body language and habits. Jenny decided to run to get away from the fear of seeing her mother slip away from her life, but can’t quite face up to that. I personally identified a lot with the message Jenny mentions, as a runner myself. Sometimes you don’t know why you keep on running. You just keep going.
Sparksy and Mitch recur throughout the piece. Showing off stolen Giorgio Armani watches, sharing a drink, but nothing is really shared about their lives. Every other character in this story reveals their own. But not Sparksy. Costello and Moss deliver a stellar performance in the story of how they end up on the streets. Moss shows us brilliantly that Mitch is there to listen to everyone. He delivered mannerisms and the positive outlook and inclination to help that so few people have. Sparksy confides in herself however. Costello tells us Sparksy’s story of how everything in her life turned around because her one love for playing the piano. So much was stolen from her, but in this, she accepts and takes comfort in her new home next to this park bench. A bench which anyone could pass tomorrow with new stories to tell.
This production carried its own weight excellently. I find very rarely, do a cast fit their characters so well. Director, Lewis Aaron Wood should be incredibly proud of not only his cast and what they achieved with ‘Six Tales’ but also himself. I hope to one day see this in professional production, so if it is ever performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, or in a theatre somewhere, I can assure you, it is well worth the hour and a half you get.