Venue: New Century House
Where: Manchester

Witty, rude, packed with strong language, tackling issues including gay casual sex and having a special needs relative, Ian Townsend’s All The Bens is one of the most complete and successful plays I have seen at any 24:7 festival.

Tough guy Ben (Dominic Vulliamy) meets Al (Tom McGarva) via the internet and they have sex, only for Al to then, somewhat belatedly, play hard to get and claim he is, actually, straight. Then there’s Henry (Daniel McCann), Ben’s autistic half-brother, a lad with a fondness for numbers and a passion to play a game of Monster in the local park.

The three continue to meet, despite Al’s efforts at avoidance. One of Al’s favourite pastimes is to visit the local A&E, where he gets a kick out of watching both patients and doctors, and he takes Ben with him to join in his fun. But on another occasion, when Ben gets beaten up by a character from his past, Al actually joins in. The relationships twist and turn as the lads battle their demons.

Finally, despite all, a grudging friendship develops between the trio and a surprising tenderness surfaces, as they come to terms with their lives in a rather unexpected but totally convincing way.

Excellent performances, spot-on direction by Martha Simon and above all a terrific script. If you aren’t intending seeing all 10 of this year’s main offerings but instead want the pick of the crop, this should most certainly figure high on your shortlist.

 - Alan Hulme