The Bench Review at The Customs House
The Bench by Jeff Brown
Customs House, South Shields
22nd August 2023
I was delighted to be back at Customs House again this evening for a play written by BBC presenter Jeff Brown and performed by some brilliant local talent including two cast members who have sailed effortlessly from community theatre onto the professional stage. The Customs House has to be applauded for giving a platform to local performers and writers to bring their stories to the stage and to bring them through into professional theatre.
The Bench tells the story of a professional footballer who strikes up a conversation with a single mother in a park somewhere over looking the sea in the north east of England. The two are immediately attracted to each other and although there is a gulf between them, they find a commonality which is endearing and real. They both have a story to tell which is beautifully engaging and heartbreaking in equal measures.
The single mum, Vicky, is played beautifully by Hannah Marie Davis who struggles through life balancing the care of her young son, Georgie, with caring responsibilities of her ailing mother who is in the final stages of motor neuron disease. She is a salt of the earth character who remains a cheerful and hopeful girl despite everything that life is throwing at her. Adi Dokobu (Jason Njoroge) on the other hand is a Premiership footballer playing for the town, who is battling his own demons and feeling very alone having been recently signed from a Ligue 2 team in France as the next great goal scorer.
Adi is very alone and lost in a foreign land, Vicky is struggling and they find a common bond which is as joyous as it is troublesome as outside influences try to keep this young love story from flourishing.
Vicky’s rock in all the turbulence is her best friend, hairdresser Ange (Abigail Lawson) who offers some sage advice with more than a little local salt. Adi’s only real confidant is his slimy agent, Mick (Adam Donaldson) who is more interested in the next deal than looking after his sensitive and troubled client.
There are some difficult topics tackled in Jeff Brown’s script and they are presented with a great deal of sensitivity. I was very impressed by the delicate way each of the challenging aspects of this production were presented to the very appreciative audience.
Aside from the skilled performances from the cast, the things that impressed me most were the set and the lighting and the technical team are to be applauded. It is made up of three distinct performance areas to denote Adi’s apartment, Vicki’s small flat and a bench which served as both character’s sofa and the titular bench in the park. What made it more impressive was the suggestion of a football field with goals either side and a centre circle. As a director, clocks on sets always make me nervous but the attention to detail with this production was sublime and I encourage all theatre makers to watch out for it.
This is not an easy story to watch. There are some challenging and triggering moments. The story is beautifully told and the entire cast thoroughly deserved the standing ovation at the end of the show.
You only have two more opportunities to see The Bench and I cannot recommend it more highly.
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