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A Bench at the Edge at The Hen and Chickens Theatre

A Bench at the EdgeAbsurdist and thought-provoking, A Bench at the Edge supports the theory that people are likelier to do something if they have already determined to take the plunge, as opposed to those who dither and weigh up the options. An example would be taking a dip in the sea on a summer day that isn’t particularly warm. People who dive in could wade back almost as quickly if they suddenly discover that sea temperature is too cold for them, and it probably only takes seeing a couple of people remark on how cold it is for others to reconsider and back away.

The analogy doesn’t quite work as far as this play goes. There’s no getting around, seeing how central it is to the play, throwing in a spoiler as to what the bench in question is at the edge of. Man One (Marius Clements) lives on this bench, the only major bit of staging in this production, which lies close to ‘the abyss’. For whatever reason, the play does not explore what happens to those who enter the abyss, except to say, at the risk of stating the obvious, they do not return once they have gone in. There are Bullets (Callum James), a term Man One uses to describe those who go straight in at speed. And each time one comes along, it is rather harrowing.

If there is a Man One, it would logically follow that there is a Man Two (Louie Threlfall), who is going through some personal problems, fully explained in the dialogue. The play could, I suppose, be played by two actors of any gender, as the problems and themes brought out have wide applicability. That said, at a time when statistics are being quoted that talk about high suicide rates for men (according to the Office for National Statistics, “around three-quarters of suicides in 2016 in the UK were male”), a production of this play with two male characters is timely.

It would have made for an even shorter one-act play if Man Two were to enter the abyss straight away as he stands on the edge, stretching an arm, then a leg over the line. As far as this production goes, it works well – Threlfall’s Man Two goes through a huge range of emotions that one wonders, as Man One does, whether he will be back. Man One, meanwhile, has his own fears, uncovered by Man Two in a switch of positions of power.

A show partly about ending it all with moments of humour? At the end of the day, it’s a celebration of life. It needs to be seen to be believed, and I am grateful for the naturalistic dialogue, lacking in melodrama, in a play that is set somewhere quite abstract. This is a thoughtful and engaging production, unafraid to confront some serious questions about life and how it can be lived.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A bench at the edge of an abyss. Two men observe others jumping in whilst contemplating their own fate. An absurd dark-comedy exploring life, death and the struggles of modern existence. Stagedoor Award 2017 winners, Theatre of Heaven and Hell return to this year’s Camden Fringe Festival with Luigi Jannuzzi’s award-winning play.

Twitter: @theatrehell
www.theatreofheavenandhell.com

23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th Aug 2018
Hen & Chickens Theatre
109 St Paul’s Road
Islington N1 2NA

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