Home » London Theatre Reviews » Park Bench by Tori Allen-Martin at Park Theatre | Review

Park Bench by Tori Allen-Martin at Park Theatre | Review

As the pandemic hit in 2020, the world moved online. MS Teams, Zoo, Webex etc became the way we communicated both in our business and professional lives. But, sometimes the conversation we need to have really has to be conducted in person. The need to be face-to-face is at the heart of Park Bench, a new play by Tori Allen-Martin which is in two distinct acts, the first online and the second live at Park Theatre.

Park Bench at the Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet.
Tori Allen-Martin and Tim Bowie in Park Bench at the Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet.

Liv (Tori Allen-Martin) and Theo (Tim Bowie) used to be the best of friends. They shared everything together, even on occasion their bed, and knew every little part of each other’s personality. But that was a long time ago. After a year of not talking, they have decided to get back into contact, and their first catch-up is by Zoom. Unfortunately, the limitations of the system ensures that vital physical clues get missed and the conversation doesn’t flow in the way it did before, so after a lot of stilted discussions Liv and Theo finally agree to meet in person at their favourite park bench where we join them as they meet, greet and talk. They both have a lot to say to each other – it’s been so long since they have physically met and a lot of water has flown under various bridges in that time. As they talk, Liv explains her reasons for meeting with Theo and truths that have been buried for years come to the surface to be aired, confronted and, well who knows what the final effect will be.

Having spent the last 17 months or so pretty much doing everything online I really identified with the frustrations felt by Liv and Theo during their zoom call. Something strange happens when you move from in-person to online chats. One of the real issues with online chats and shows is that it is impossible to hide. With a big old screen a few inches from their face, the audience can see every facet of an actor’s face and therefore it requires something extra in the performance to ensure that all the emotions of the conversation are portrayed in a natural and believable way. In this case, both actors achieved that really well in the Act 1 online piece. Having met Liv and Theo in this way, meant that when they appeared on stage, you already knew the characters in some respects and therefore the narrative could move along at a brisker pace than if they were being introduced for the first time. However, full credit to writer Tori Allen-Martin for writing a piece that didn’t discriminate against those that hadn’t seen act 1. After the show, I was listening to a couple of people talking. One had and one hadn’t watched the first act online, and both were singing the praises of the production. The story explores a number of topics, including love, friendship and mental health and does so in a touching and often funny way. Theo has some wonderful moments talking about his life during lockdown and Liv’s description of the travails she has gone through are very emotional. And both actors really commit to the production. It could be my imagination but at one point I’m sure tears were rolling down Tim Bowie’s face. I’m also going to give plaudits to Tori for winning the world record for the greatest number of times the word omnipresent can appear in a show.

The staging is basic – a bench on a pile base of grass and mulch, with an old Walls Ice Cream bin nearby – but is easily reminiscent of municipal parks the world over. There are background sounds which, just as if sitting in a park, you hear but don’t really think about. For me, the effect of sitting in a park observing two people chatting was achieved for the most part. But there was a point when Liv was talking about what she had been through when the lights were slowly dimmed – I’m assuming to add atmosphere to the heart-breaking tale being delivered – but for me, it was a real distraction that took me away from the scene a bit. Unusually for a production with only two actors, Park Bench has three directors. Act I, online – was directed by Christa Harris, and Act II, theatre – was co-directed by Sarah Henley and Timothy O’Hara. This seems to have worked well, delivering a seamless story through the two mediums.

There is much to love in Park Bench. The quality of the writing and performances are extremely high. The meandering way Theo and Liv’s conversation moves through to topics and emotions felt pretty real and the actors have a good chemistry with each other that makes the character’s friendship seem, on the whole, plausible and on many levels understandable. I also really liked the idea of starting online and finishing in a theatre – a wonderful example of life over the last few months. My final feeling as the show ended was that, wherever they finally end up, I really want Theo and Liv to achieve and exceed their medal-winning potential in life.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Park Bench
Moving from the small screen to live on stage, a new play examines how we readjust to in-person interaction, and how old flames and old habits die hard.

Written by Tori Allen-Martin
Directed by Christa Harris (Act 1) | Sarah Henley & Timothy O’Hara (Act 2)
Act 1(Digital): 22 June – 14 Aug
Act 2 (Live): Park Theatre, 4 – 14 August

Company information
Directed by Christa Harris (Act 1: Digital) Sarah Henley & Timothy O’Hara (Act 2: Live)
Written by Tori Allen-Martin

Cast: Tori Allen-Martin, Tim Bowie

Listings information
22 – 14 Aug (Act 1: Online) | 4 – 14 Aug (Act 2: Live)
Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP
https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/

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