Park Bench at Park Theatre
How does one get over a breakup in 2021, when isolated and locked in? Tori Allen-Martin addresses this issue in Park Bench – fittingly named, since it is the first play held back at Park Theatre, and draws on Allen-Martin’s own experiences of a relationship ending during quarantine.
Available online is Act One, which sees Liv, played by Allen-Martin herself, and Theo (Tim Bowie) attempting to reconnect in a time when reconnecting happens through Zoom. Equipped with comments taken out of context, jokes coming across stiff, and essentially everything dripping with awkwardness – even technical difficulties mixed in – this is relatable to everyone watching, and particularly hilarious to see soap opera levels of melodrama over Zoom. Most unrealistic is the ease with which they agree to meet up following a pandemic.
To see how awkward the meet-up actually is, Act Two is required, held at Park Theatre. While the crowd gets seated, Liv perfectly conveys the anxieties of waiting for someone, constantly tapping her fingers and pretending to read. Her facial expressions say more than words. In contrast, Theo arrives, practically skipping into the park, while munching on some crisps. Opposites attract definitely applies in this case, and the motif is featured throughout. This also goes for the shock of seeing the characters in person after previously only seeing them through a computer: Theo is more eccentric and self-assured, making whole use of the set, while Liv is stiff and closed off, opting to spend most of her time at the very edge of the bench.
The set is an immaculately created British park – not immaculate as in clean, but as in accurate, from the bin brimming with litter to the ground that’s seen better days, and, of course, at the centre, the titular park bench, actually named Dorris. Liv and Theo have also seen better days. Well, their relationship has. They talk about everything except what they’re supposed to, from The Crown to bad first dates, though the topics gradually get deeper and deeper until reality fully takes over. Liv may be the master of distraction but she is unable to shield herself from truths that emerge.
Chock-full of humour, while also managing to tackle serious issues – from mental health to parenthood – it is hard not to feel for the characters in Park Bench. Although some speeches verge on soliloquy territory and seem more fitted for a stage performance than a natural conversation, it is an accolade for a show to strike the perfect balance between comedy and drama, especially with a cast of two people. It is a long conversation, but a short performance – only 50 minutes in duration. This is the length of a journey to work for some people, or even to the theatre, so there is no excuse for missing this one because of the commute.
Park Bench is at Park Theatre from 22nd June until 14th August 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.