First Love by Park Bench Theatre Review

Park Bench Theatre, brought to York by engine house theatre, has developed a unique series of socially-distanced monologues.

Rowntree Park in York has been transformed into a creative outdoor theatre space, with perfect circles demonstrating the audience’s ‘bubbles’. Sounds almost normal in these COVID-19 times, doesn’t it?

On arrival we’re given a small receiver to plug headphones into, to make sure we can hear the monologue and sound effects. The front few bubbles will no doubt be able to hear the show spotlessly without this, though for those sat further back it’s an innovative and interesting solution and makes sure the whole audience can enjoy the show.

Chris Hannon, expertly directed by Matt Aston, portrays a lost, bewildered man who doesn’t quite understand the beauty of social connection. Samuel Beckett’s First Love doesn’t give him a great deal to play with – the story essentially charts a man’s descent into homelessness and his unorthodox relationship with a prostitute. He’s not sure what love is, whether he’s capable of it or indeed whether it’s something that will enhance or detract from his lonesome, isolated lifestyle.

The character has a great deal of potential to be unlikeable. He’s rude, unsociable, unbending and crass. Yet Hannon makes him seem human. He gives him vulnerability, and a vague mystique of confusion that draws the audience to him rather than away from him. We hang on Hannon’s every word, each line delivered as carefully and succinctly as an artist’s brushstroke.

To say I’ve only previously seen Hannon in the Wakefield panto, I’m impressed. Such a tremendous range of talent is simply inspiring, and it was a treat to watch Hannon deliver the monologue.

The play lasts just over an hour, so hats off to any actor who can single-handedly capture an audience’s attention for such a long amount of time. It’s slightly uncomfortable sitting on the grass for so long, but you do have the option to bring chairs, which I’d recommend. It’s a terrible feeling to clock-watch such a unique performance due to your legs getting restless!

Matt Aston has cleverly and carefully directed the piece to delve into one man’s quirks and characteristics. Is he miserable and detached from the world, or does he simply find himself in a situation he’ll never belong in? We don’t ever quite get to know our main man, but that’s the way Beckett likes it.

Special mention must go to all staff members and stewards who made the process so simple. These are undoubtedly challenging times, but being in safe hands with understanding, friendly people on hand to help is always very much appreciated. The organisation is faultless, from our digital tickets through to COVID-19 guidance provided beforehand and detailed FAQs available.

As an experience, Park Bench Theatre absolutely gets it right. At all times we felt safe, looked after and entertained. A beautiful welcome back to the arts, and an experience I absolutely recommend for those desperate to get back to the theatre.

For more information and to book tickets, visit the Park Bench Theatre website.

Photography credited to Northedge Photography

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