ComedyDramaNorth West

The Bench: A Tale from Paradise Heights – Blackpool Grand Theatre

Reviewer: Gill Lewis

Writer/Director: Joe O’Byrne

A delve into the shenanigans of some colourful and complex characters, their troubles worthy of a theatrical drama but on this occasion, devoid of a strong setting in which to share their predicaments.

O’Byrne creates an assortment of interesting characters who inhabit the fictional estate of Paradise Heights, which by the looks of it is a place that doesn’t match its namesake. There are some sinister and supernatural goings on in the park, with gangsters, loan sharks, paedophiles, and drug dealers lurking around, as well as some supernatural happening! This is balanced with softer, yet troubled, down-to-earth characters, such as the two old WW2 veterans, homeless Eric, and budding artist Gabriella, as well as a role-playing frisky couple looking for their kicks.

Each scene mostly consists of duologues, providing snapshots of these character’s lives. The detail in the writing gives the audience enough information to form a fuller picture of the characters, their backgrounds, and the current situations they find themselves in.

There are some interesting twists on the power play between characters, all of which have depth and would merit further, deeper exploration. This is perhaps revealed within the other interconnecting plays O’Byrne has written in this Paradise Heights series. O’Byrne’s writing has real depth as his characters give a voice to people who are rarely portrayed in such a naturalistic, truthful way in theatre. This is quite refreshing and gives leeway to plenty of laugh-out-loud moments delivered with ease by the cast.

All six actors, including O’Byrne, competently double up on characters. The strong ensemble of talent includes Peter Slater, Jeni Williams, Bill Bradshaw, Jo Malone, and Ross Thompson who’s physicality and accents help to differentiate between each character. The acting is assuredly naturalistic, however at times, some scenes felt prolonged with unnecessary pauses thus affecting the pace.

Presented as a series of stand-alone scenes, the action, which takes place in 2007, incorporates stories and themes which cleverly interlink through O’Byrne’s writing. The transitions would benefit from some reimagining as each scene is bookended with lights up/lights down which soon became repetitive. With some creative lighting and soundscapes to help illustrate the passing of time, change in seasons, and ambience of the local park, these additions could have complimented the pacing and flow.

The overall direction was static, taking place on and around the make-shift bench which took central stage. After the show, O’Byrne explained to the audience that the original bench was actually too big to bring up in the lift to the Studio space, which is extremely unfortunate and a glaringly absent element considering the name of the play. The black-covered sofa served its purpose but obviously did not compliment the intended environment. The War memorial and public bin were perfect set pieces that would have benefited being set further upstage making room for more pops of colour, perhaps with a hint of green signifying the park surroundings

Overall an enjoyable evening of storytelling, engaging and interesting characters who have so much more to say. With some added production elements and tightening up, this has potential to go far.

The Bench runs until Monday 19th February 2024 and continues on tour!

The Reviews Hub Score

Drama with potential

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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