Writer: Ian Townsend
Director: Martha Simon
Reviewer: Laura Maley
On arrival at The Lowry’s Studio theatre, the audience finds three young men on stage. Two sit quietly, one deep in concentration, one more brooding, maybe dreamy, and the third paces the stage like a boxer pumped up for a fight.
The play begins as Ben (Dominic Vulliamy) meets his internet date Al (Thomas McGarva) and becoming fixated on him straightaway, which is unfortunate for Ben because Al says he isn’t gay. As Ben says, “It’s not a relationship… but it sort of is.” Ben perseveres (or stalks…) and keeps pursuing Al, while Al is more interested in pursuing ambulances and doctors. When Al meets Henry (Daniel McCann), Ben’s young step-brother who has special educational needs, a love of the number seven, and an inability to lie, relationships begin to change.
There’s no scenery on the black curtained stage, clothes are casual and familiar, and the only props are two mobile phones. Instead of windows and doors and things to carry, there is one of the sharpest, funniest scripts around, and an outstanding ensemble performance. Writer Ian Townsend and director Martha Simon create a dynamic between the characters which shifts gradually, and surprisingly – but always believably.
The audience follows Ben and Al; their loneliness needs and desires and, while that relationship is as funny as it is at times desperate, it’s the relationships Henry inspires which really give the story its heart. We see that, although Ben doesn’t care what happens to him – sometimes to a dangerous degree – Henry grounds him. The understanding between Vulliamy and McCann feels authentic and each of the three characters is believable, precisely because their flaws and vulnerabilities are so sharply drawn. The way that tenderness develops is surprising but very touching, given the violence simmering ominously in Al, as Ben and Al begin to realise that they need something more substantial in their unfulfilled lives.
All The Bens comes to the Library Theatre Company’s Re:Play Festival with quite a pedigree to live up to. Not only did it win the Audience Award for Favourite Show and Equity’s Vicky Allen Memorial Award for Best Play at 24:7 Theatre Festival in 2012, but it was recently nominated for Best Fringe Production and Best Ensemble Cast at the Manchester Theatre Awards. Audience reaction at the Lowry proves that All The Bens deserves all the awards which come its way, as well as an even wider audience. This is a special play and with Henry’s approval, it’s a definite seven.