The Bench is a tragicomedy about ‘safe spaces’, and the people who fill them. All Joe wants is ‘five minutes of peace’ to escape the pressures and drudgery of his daily life – to sit on a bench quietly and look at the view. But the bench happens to be Sandy’s memorial shrine to his beloved Maggie, and he is hell-bent on protecting it.
What follows is a series of hilarious altercations between the two men. Joe doesn’t want to let it go; he feels he has done nothing wrong in moving a floral tribute slightly, so that he can sit on a public bench. But Sandy feels that Joe has somehow treated his memorial with irreverence. The two meet every day, and over time, a love-hate relationship develops: each one relies on the other for company and banter, while also being easily provoked by them.
Both Keir McAllister as Joe and Paul Sneddon as Sandy do a fantastic job with their characters. They have worked together on stage for years, a fact that is evident in their excellent camaraderie and comic timing. McAllister also deserves credit as playwright, for this script is extremely well-written. It strikes the perfect balance between humour and gravity in its approach to some of the more nuanced sides of life.
However, the venue makes for a rather poor viewing experience. The bench, which the characters sit on for about half the show, is at eye-level, and the lack of tiered seating means that viewing is significantly restricted. There are also parts where Sneddon sits on the floor, at which point I gave up trying to peer over three rows of shoulders in front of me. It's a pity this combination of venue and directorial decisions detracted from my engagement with the piece.
If you get to the venue in plenty of time, ready to climb the four flights of stairs and bag the first couple of rows, this post-lunch show is a delight. It's a light-hearted take on the travesty that is life, and is sure to be one of the highlights of your Fringe this year.