Venue: The Octagon
Where: Bolton

Thieves, recovering drug addicts, gangsters, World War II veterans and even a ghost and renegade angel reside in the fictional community of Paradise Heights. Sitting on a park bench they share their stories and writer/director Joe O’ Byrne draws the individual tales together for a surprising and moving conclusion.
 
O’Byrne’s strong belief in community values brings optimism to a tale that could otherwise become depressing. This should not be confused with naiveté as he subtly makes clear what really motivates a local gangster to put the frighteners on a sexual predator so that comparisons with the confused people who thought the Krays were lovely boys are avoided.
 
The second act, in which the individual plot treads are blended, works like a dream. However, the emotional involvement of the audience may have already been limited by the storylines being more isolated in act one. Joe's passion for his subject and his love of words leads him to over-write so that some speeches, and even scenes, go on long after their point is made.
 
The cast have great empathy for their characters and there are some imaginative interpretations. Ste Myott and Richard Allen bring disturbing sadio-masochistic undertones to the relationship between the vile thugs Jake and Matty. Ian Curley shows the damaged psyche that takes gangster Frank from an avuncular figure to a terrifying one. David Edward Robertson embodies O’Bryne’s belief that positive change is possible by taking the shattered Eric towards redemption.
 
Although the fragmented storyline hinders full commitment - The Bench is a very well acted and touching story that suggests there may be a glimmer of hope in the future.
 
- Dave Cunningham