Review – The Bench

Date Reviewed: 28th January, 2009
Venue: The Library Theatre


Like Jimmy McGovern’s TV series The Street, Joe O’Byrne’s The Bench not only shares a naff title but also a thematic concept. The setting is the fictional community of Paradise Heights, already explored by this promising writer in one man show I’m Frank Morgan (due to return to The Lowry in March).

In a series of short scenes, the lives of 15 characters intersect around a park bench. Homeless Eric (Clyve Bonelle) holds a candle for petty thief/artist Gabrielle (Phoebe Marie Jones); burned in a childhood house fire, Eric rails against God for disfiguring her (then instantly apologises). Local loan shark Frank Morgan might dabble in extortion and the odd bit of a torture but he’s got a moral code, and has no time for drug pushers or paedophiles intruding on his patch. War veterans Archie and Lenny meet every day for a brew and a chat. The former has a collection of medals and a collectible rifle, which nasty low-life Matty plans to rob – he doesn’t care who gets caught in the crossfire.

Six actors play all the roles. Ste Myott is flesh crawlingly hateful as Matty, if slightly less convincing as pensioner Archie. Ian Curley adds light and shade to the potentially one dimensional Frank, whilst Stella Grundy – reigning queen of the Salford fringe – has some good comedy moments, including one scene as a sexually frustrated wife. Ben Hood is suitably ethereal as the angel Corny. Best of all are the scenes between Jones and Bonelle, which are genuinely touching; Bonelle in particular, brings a bruised sensitivity to the part of vagrant Eric.

Like Jim Cartwright, O’Byrne has a knack of finding poetry in the most ordinary situations: he also has real affection for his characters, and they feel like flesh and blood people. If you have to quibble – and I do – it’s that O’Byrne has also chosen to direct. At times the pace is sluggish, with characters aimlessly drifting on from the wings. A bit more variety and attack with the movement would have earned this production a fifth star.

The press blurb describes The Bench as being ‘about love, life, death and rebirth.’ Dare I say it’s about much more? The struggle of being human and finding your place in the world.

Still don’t like the title though.

-Steve Timms

2 Responses to “Review – The Bench

  1. Joe O'Byrne Says:

    Hi Tim

    Thankyou for your review, it’s lovely and much appreciated. I take your point on the slight sluggishness of the first half, but in defence the lights were misbehaving due to a system crash shortly before we went up, characters found themselves ‘wandering in’ in the light rather than in the necessary dark to ‘be in postion’ before the lights went up. The lighting problems dogged us through out and no one’s fault at The Library, the gremlins were at work!

    I learn from every production though and you have some great feed back Tim, and once again thank you, I’m humbled by your comparisons and I look forward to seeing you next time.

    Best wishes

    PS Enormous thanks to a wonderful audience! Two more nights and the play is gone – from Manchester at least – for some time – so don’t miss your chance to see it!

  2. Joe O'Byrne Says:

    Hi Steve – not Tim, exhausted mate, really sorry – sentencing myself to forty nights sleeping on The Bench for that one…might give me time to think up a new title…:) Joe x

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