Review: Bench

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The stage lights go on to reveal two men sitting on a green park bench. The sounds heard are typical of a park: cars driving by, distant children playing, the occasional dog bark. The man on the left, Hendry, is eye-wateringly dressed in an embroidered flowered shirt with an awkwardly-adjusted tie depicting The Big 5. He leans casually against the bench, one leg propped up on the other, his trousers rather too short for his long legs. He sits with an air of studied indifference, picking at his teeth with a toothpick, while beside him sits Dwain in a bright yellow jersey and jeans, fumbling and fidgeting nervously. The two sit in silence, looking across the audience as if waiting for something or someone, but not a word is spoken.

After a few minutes, the silence is broken and what ensues is an amusing, darkly comedic conversation between two small-time crooks planning their big break.

The small, 78-person theatre in Kalk Bay was packed on opening night. Every cushioned wooden seat was filled with patrons eagerly awaiting Brent Palmer’s new play, Bench. The play, directed by Michael Kirch and starring Brent Palmer and Adrian Collins, centres on two amateur hustlers, Hendry (Palmer) and Dwain (Collins), discussing their pasts while plotting a heist that will surely change their futures.

Palmer drew inspiration for this play from pondering the motivations of crooks. “I wondered, what would these two hustlers speak about? What makes them laugh or cry? I was interested in their humanity; not just in our views of them as crooks,” he says. “I wanted to peel back the layers to reveal two absorbing characters who, despite what they do, are able to hold up the mirror to all of us and reflect some of our own humanity; our aspirations and our disappointments. Of course, with a healthy dose of comedy thrown in!”

Palmer’s development of the characters is thorough and utterly convincing. Their problems are real, their feelings are real. Both can be related to, yet there is such a contrast in personalities between the two characters that comedy is almost inevitable. Hendry, with his veneer of ostentatious confidence, believes in “etiquette” which in his small-minded fashion he judges himself to have mastered by dressing ‘properly’ and refusing to swear. The nervously flaring Dwain is inevitably a target for chastisement by Hendry for his use of bad language.

With two such different people come two very differing points of view on the world.  Occasionally the petty bickering escalates into a schoolboy-style shoving match, and even a hilarious chase around the bench, fists-a-blazin’.

Bench is a perfect blend of comedy and grit. From smiling as the two characters suddenly burst into song and laughing as they tell tales of their past deceits, the emotion quite suddenly becomes darker as Hendry pushes Dwain just a tad too far and a string of deep-seated sentiments and resentments bubble up from conflicts in their pasts. Voices escalate and punches are thrown. And then, just as quickly, the laughter is back as Hendry tries out some misguided karate moves to ward off the steaming Dwain.

Funny, dark, lighthearted and sinister, Bench is a melting pot of emotions.  And in such an intimate venue as the Kalk Bay Theatre, the audience feels right there in the park eavesdropping on a conversation between two amusing fellows.

Collins and Palmer make a cracking team, with timing and responses full of all the self-assurance and synchronicity that their hilarious characters fail to achieve.

In turns crass and endearing, Bench is a thoroughly enjoyable new play. Although I have never heard the word “kak” so many times in one hour, it was a perfect mid week lift. Thoroughly recommended.

by Claire Pokorchak

Bench runs at the Kalk Bay Theatre from 12 September to 7 October, Wed to Sat at 8.30pm and Sundays at 8pm. Ticket specials are available on September 19, 20, 26 and 27 September. Book at www.kbt.co.za.

‘Much to boast about’. Read our review of the Kalk Bay Theatre Restaurant.

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