The Bench

Sat 15th – Thu 20th August 2015

reviews

Rowena Henley

at 00:24 on 19th Aug 2015

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As my fellow reviewer and I walked out of Surgeons’ Hall theatre and into the rainy Edinburgh afternoon, a strange silence of fell between us. Often, this is the sign of a great show: one is so awestruck that they simply lose the power of communication. In the case of Z Theatre’s The Bench, however, I can safely say that the silence was due to the utter bewilderment we felt about the random mismatch of scenes and situations we had just seen unfold before us.

The Bench followed the highly stereotyped and somewhat gratuitous character of Ducky (or Dorothy), a homeless woman living on a bench. For absolutely no apparent reason and to no dramatic effect, Ducky could time travel. We observed her looking in on three different love stories that took place on her bench, which ranged from the painfully dull to the downright absurd.

It seems that Ducky’s purpose was to connect each three tales with her strange, drunken outbursts and also to interact with both the characters and the audience. Often, a breach of the theatre’s fourth wall can be incredibly effective, allowing the audience to feel a connection to the piece and identify the allegory intended. Ducky’s repartee, however, provided neither. Instead, it was predominantly used to inject the play with comedy, which, sadly, also failed to deliver. Although Ducky’s opening speech about Lambrini being the ‘urine of the Gods’ was mildly amusing, her succeeding quips were cringe-worthy and immature.

The three love stories of a young 21st century couple, a 1950s perfect pairing, and a 19th century lord and lowly housemaid, were played out through a muddle of various encounters. I must commend Z-Theatre for the concept that lay at the heart of this play, as it was certainly one with the great potential: exploring how love, even when experienced in the exact same spot, can vary so hugely due to time and circumstance. Sadly, the idea’s execution completely missed the mark.

The acting was uncomfortably inadequate. Although there were flickers of decent dramatic ability, on the whole we were watching a poorly presented school Christmas production.

The story itself did little to excite or engage me. The more sorrowful moments failed to evoke any kind of emotion as the stories felt completely half-hearted, without any real thought put into the characters themselves. Furthermore, the somber moments were often succeeded by an utterly bizarre performance from the 19th century couple, Lord Bingham and Alice, who were straight out of a pantomime and completely overwhelming in their ‘comical’ absurdity.

Z Theatre’s The Bench is one which definitely could turn into something watchable, it just needs to start from scratch and work on the basics: character development, scene construction and performance techniques.

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Jenny Burton

at 12:31 on 19th Aug 2015

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The Bench by Z Theatre Company and written by Jake Smith contains moments of comedic intrigue but hasn’t quite chosen if it wants to maintain laughter throughout or stir a tear. The company from Hull University are attempting a heart-felt romance but have achieved something a little less genuine.

The Bench presents three connecting storylines across vastly different eras. The compere for the afternoon is the drunken tramp, Ducky who desperately needs a hair brush and sees Lambrini as the urine of God (which is apparently a good thing). The performance opens with our narrator breaking the forth wall and talking directly to us, “We could have called it the Drench” she suggests during a rainy sound effect while brandishing an e-cigarette and pointing out that the ‘powers that be’ have banned real cigarettes on stage. Over the course of the following 40 minutes, we are introduced to a trio; a modern-day lesbian couple, 1950s charmers Audrey and Robert and fictional Lord Bingham and Miss Flynn. As the three scenes reveal their connections, the audience is left begging for more spirit and less scrambling.

The Bench’s biggest failure was its lack of attention to its changing time zones. Ducky (Hollie Glossip) just about managed to tease a giggle from her audience despite her unexplained time hopping, but she didn’t have quite enough power to persuade us to actually like her stories. A charming performance by Annabelle Greenwood as Audrey in the 1954 scene was interrupted by fumbling and unnatural acting by Mikey Barker who seemed more self-conscious than self-aware. I was particularly disappointed by his portrayal of a pensioner who needed help to a bus stop despite being able to stand up from the bench without a problem.

Bethan Sheavils’ Rose showed moments of vulnerability, but her contact with Jemma Baker’s Ash left the audience stuck between knowing whether to laugh at the ridiculousness of their terrible relationship or to feel sympathy at their complete misunderstanding of each other. Despite this, the 19th century scenario was the least successful, with fumbled words and melodramatic attention-seeking reminiscent of pantomime at Christmastime rather than effective acting. As Lord Bingham says, “this is not spiffing”.

Although Z Theatre Company are enjoying themselves at the fringe, it appears that they are having more fun than their audience. The Bench has moments of comedy, but it needs the severe strike of an editor’s pen and a stricter attention to detail.

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