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Peace, quiet and gutbusting laughs of Keir McAllister and Paul Sneddon power Edinburgh Fringe hit The Bench at Eden Court

By Kyle Walker

REVIEW: The Bench

Eden Court, Inverness


SOME peace and quiet – time to contemplate, reflect and rebuild – is at the heart of The Bench – both the gutbustingly funny play and the titular seat that it revolves around.

The two-hander play written by Keir McAllister deftly balances its big laughs – and oh, are there big laughs – with the quieter moments of weight and emotion.

Keir plays Joe with the exasperated put-upon qualities of an ordinary man with an ordinary desire for the little calm that five minutes sat on the bench offers – only to be confronted and thwarted by extraordinary circumstances.

Those extraordinary circumstances come from Sandy – the bench’s “custodian”, played with a perfect mixture of passive aggression and pathos by Paul Sneddon. The bench has its own meaning and connection for Sandy – one which he is desperate to protect.

And from that, the conflict between these two men builds naturally from a slightly passive aggressive argument about moving flowers – an argument that, in terms of the play’s pacing, is possibly slightly too long and circular and repetitive.

But from there, it escalates – and as the play moves through the gears, it becomes sharply and punishingly funny. Keir’s script has a knack for bringing out its central conflict, and he and Paul's performances keep the audience's sympathies with both men.

And the argument between the two men remains relatable even as the conflict itself heightens and reaches glorious levels of absurdity.

The script has a knack for well-earned twists, letting its big emotional moments land feather-soft before viciously undercutting them with a sudden punchline or story beat.

There is something of Still Game at its best in The Bench – they share a knack for balancing its weightier topics with a light (or dark) sense of comedy.

It makes its ending – Joe and Sandy don’t come to a state of friendship at the end of the hour, rather reaching a more realistic and passive-aggressive state of equilibrium – feel completely earned.

The Bench is a small triumph of independent theatre, a hilarious examination of male emotions, grief and loss wrapped up with sharp writing – so take a seat, relax, and enjoy it. KW

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