THE PARK BENCH
09/03/2015 - 13/03/2015
A sly detective must piece together the rambling memories of a homeless man to help solve the murder of a wealthy business woman who washed up in the harbour.
The Park Bench is a murder mystery set on Wellington’s waterfront. It has elements of homelessness, young love, failed business dealings, frivolities of the upper class, and general people from all walks of life.
Put together by the 1000 Heroes collective we hope to entertain our audience with the premier of this well devised script.
Venue: Little Theatre Lower Hutt
Date: 9th – 13th March
Show time: 7pm
Duration 120 minutes
Tickets: $25 adult/$15 children under 12
2hrs including interval
Convoluted play no benchmark
Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 17th Mar 2015
The Park Bench is an oddity in the Fringe. It is almost two hours long; it has a cast of thirteen, two acts and a multiplicity of scenes most of which take place, completely ignoring plausibility, in a public park with the actors nearly always seated on the park bench.
In the park lives “Rubbish Tin Man”, a homeless man with a tragic back-story, who knows too much about the death of a young woman, drowned in Wellington Harbour. He knows things because people have very personal discussions in the public park just near where he sleeps.
Into the park comes a private detective who is clearly living a double life because he behaves and speaks as if he were a private eye from Los Angeles who has seen every Philip Marlow novel, movie and TV series. He is so smooth that he even switches on the elegant street light above the park bench as if it were a bedside lamp.
He spends the first act finding out information so that we can understand all the possible motives into the young woman’s death. As the characters and their back-stories multiply we get to meet a couple of star-crossed lovers and the young woman’s objectionable and bankrupt father, her jealous rival in love for her young man, as well finding out about a precious family heirloom.
The heirloom is an antique locket lusted after by a Russian diplomat (dark glasses, fur coat, thick accent), a very strange antique dealer who wears two funny outfits, including a small crocodile head as a hat.
And for good measure we also meet a caricature homosexual who wears multi-coloured body hugging ski tights, boots and poles in the middle of Wellington city, a gang (Kung Fuze) of three skateboarding teenagers, a gypsy clairvoyant, and two teenage girls who behave as if they had escaped from a Disney teen TV show.
It’s a convoluted play that cannot make up its mind if it wants to be an affectionate pastiche of Private Eye stories or an outright send-up of them or a tragi-comedy/farce.
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Great concept needs refining
Review by Patrick Davies 11th Mar 2015
A tale of lies, murder, mystery and love, 1000 Heros’ production is film noir meets Wellington harbor. A detective interviews a Hobo in a park to find out what happened and unravel the mystery around a young girl’s death – accident or murder?
The programme (flashy as all get up) describes 1000Heros’ aim as involving experienced and amateur cast members in a community involved project. This is also Cloud Coal Shackles’ first work for the company and the director takes on one of the main roles. I have a feeling they may have bitten off more than they can chew.
Opening night is delayed by half an hour and this may have affected some performances onstage. The cast give it their all and there is no denying the passion they bring to the production.
Deakin as Richard is a particular stand out, not only for some of the most outrageous blocking in the universe – he struts around the stage with a golf club like a peacock on acid in the tightest white shorts in history – but for attacking an over-the-top part with verve and flair. He sells the ludicrousness of the part well. His get-up in the second half boldly goes where no costume has gone before, and had me in stitches. The trouble is his footwear means that it’s quite difficult to hear much of what he was saying.
‘Alex’ Jake Tebbs as Teen 2 has a very natural style onstage and brings a fresh energy to his scenes. The rest of the cast play an assortment of the usual suspects in the noir style: the uptight, under pressure Father/Businessman; the young innocent (or are they?) lovers who want to elope; the sassy business-wise sister trying to save the failing company.
With a wide variety of abilities there comes a wide range of success with some parts and a heavy burden falls on the director to guide these actors. Some dialogue is simply inaudible, and when we can’t hear a story that relies on facts, fictions and clues we are left filling in gaps in the narrative for ourselves.
Even though I enjoy ‘Richard I’m still at a loss as to why he is there. There is also, sometimes, little emotional honesty in highly charged scenes. David Allen (Director) has made some bold moves with his cast but some breakdowns and recoveries happen so fast as to verge on lip service, almost as if he’s directing with an eye on the clock.
David Allen directs and takes on the role of ‘James, the Detective’ and Phillip Tyler Wilson co directs as well as taking on the role of the hobo – ‘Rubbish Tin Man’. At a spontaneous Q&A after the opening Allen admits he might have spread himself a bit thin (he also did Lighting Design). I’m going to agree. They made some major cuts three days before opening, trying to get a three hour play down to two hours, and Allen’s delivery takes us slowly, slowly through the story via flashbacks.
It’s fiction so I can easily get on board with the premise that every important event took place near the same park bench – as a conceit it’s an interesting idea – but who has an important business meeting outside? Each time ‘Rubbish Tin Man’ gives us a bit more flashback we plunge into blackout while those actors come onstage to enact the reported scene, and I feel we could have saved ten minutes by leaving the Detective and Hobo onstage with those scenes being played out in front of them.
Even so Allen’s delivery could easily pace up – if you watch noir (and it’s one of my favourite genres) the Detective needn’t mull over each and every piece of information so much (watch Bogie’s speed in The Maltese Falcon, he’s dynamite). Phillip Tyler Wilson as Rubbish Tin Man fares better and brings an empathic feel to a tortured soul, but also needs more guidance to hit those emotional tones.
The set is particularly good. Banners like towering business skyscrapers allow furtive entries; simple set elements invoke the park and these are supported well by a minimal lighting. I miss the chiaroscuro feel that so invokes film noir, but that’s not easy to pull off well within a tight budget.
The continuous play of water reflection on the roof gives us the waterfront – but I find it a little difficult to envision this place of business, park and waterfront meet; at times it is a mash of them all together. And I think that is the genius and the problem with this production.
The Detective is dressed as an American noir detective and has a hand gun he’s not shy of pulling out; there’s a Russian hit woman; an outrageously camp Golf resort owner; a high flying business family … all played out of the imagination of a Hobo who’s off his rocker. Given the murder mystery feel I begin to wonder if this is all in the Hobo’s head, this over-the-top collection of characters, because each time I am reminded of a Wellington locale or Kiwi world it jars with this overtly American style. Even the ‘Crocodile Man’ is explained in this way, with the reality of the character giving insight into how the Hobo interprets his world.
This is a great concept I would really like to see refined, some work on shaping and length with a dramaturg. The Park Bench shows a lot of promise but simply needs more work.
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