A Bench At The Edge, Tristan Bates Theatre – Review

Depression, or even the sense that life is getting on top of you is commonplace and people have their own tailored ‘coping mechanisms’. For some, they aren’t so lucky, where mentally and emotionally, things hit a ‘wall’. For others still, they have the self-awareness that they are ‘losing their grip’ and need help. However, society’s stigma regarding those who find themselves needing psychiatric help, holds them back…

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L-R: Meg Lake and Harriet Main / © Kenneth Jay.

Written by Luigi Jannuzzi and directed by Kasia Różycki, A Bench At The Edge offers a slightly absurdist take on ‘taking the plunge’. Outside a ‘hospital’, ‘No. 1’ (Meg Lake) sits on a bench which overlooks ‘the abyss’. In spite of her nearness to the gaping chasm, she is unperturbed by its presence or its proximity to her. Another woman, No. 2 (Harriet Main) leaves the ‘hospital’ and lets out a primal scream – unable to keep her conflicting feelings in any longer. However, No. 2’s outburst is shortlived, as No. 1 says “Hello” to her, as if she knew her. This is the last thing she needs: someone who knows her…

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The chemistry between the actors really makes the show, as the ebb-and-flow dynamic between them provides amusement, as well as mirroring the stereotypical etiquette of keeping to oneself on London transport. In spite of her apprehension, No 2 answers No 1’s questions, though as the play progresses, it remains to be seen who among the women holds the most ‘leverage’ with regards to how much they open up to each other.

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Cellist Sam Creer

Sitting with the actors on stage is cellist Sam Creer. Asides from creating a calming ambience to the proceedings, the use of ‘strings’ to create sound effects to comic effect, (such as when people take ‘the plunge’) adds to the absurdist tone of the conversation.

The play deftly tackles the subject of ‘bullets – those who are determined to end their own life, who inadvertently hurt others too in the process. Compared to people running ‘in a world of their own’ without consideraton of who is in their path, their actions (while not malevolent in intent) are a danger to all. Asides from this matter-of-fact observaion, the play takes pains to point that nobody is immune to bouts of depression and ‘contemplation’ – even from (or especially from…) those supposedly are ‘strong’ and have all the answers…

The play’s ‘bench’ – a place to observe in a zen-like fashion the folly of human nature – is also from time to time an obstacle to deter all but the most determined. For it’s only by being present with people at their most precarious of circumstances that intervention may be possible…

© Michael Davis 2019

A Bench At The Edge ran at Tristan Bates Theatre from 26th-30th November.

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