Bench Theatre is pleased to present a selection of short pieces written for the stage by members of the company.
During the long months of lockdown our need to tell and hear stories has not been diminished, and some of our own members have penned plays to absorb, amuse and move an audience even if the need for social distancing must be incorporated into the action.
This is your chance to enjoy an eclectic evening back in the theatre as we return to performance and showcase some of the writing talent as well as the actors among our membership.
Tuesday 6th July until Saturday 10th July 7:30
Matinee Saturday 10th July 2:30
12.00, concessions 10.00
Bench members and Friends: free
These plays were staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre (formerly Havant Arts Centre), East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
Plays Set 1
Performances Tuesday 6th and Thursday 8th evenings (7.30) and Sat 10th afternoon (2.30)
Face the Music written and directed by Jacquie Penrose.
Aisha and Sam have been friends since primary school. With school behind them and their futures ahead of them, they discover that they are more than just friends.
Aisha - Alex Eels
Sam - Emily Goodden
"Definitely a lockdown play. The title came from a lockdown scheme that Chichester Festival Theatre were running, and I was looking for something short and simple – and maybe with a touch of sweetness in dark times.”
Jacquie has been writing plays for a very long time; her first play for the Bench - 'Cross Your Heart' -was performed in 1983.
Weaving the irresistible urge to write plays around her job first as Lecturer then as Head of School of Performing Arts at Chichester College, Jacquie has had further plays performed by the Bench – 'A Perfect Gentle Knight', 'And God Created Michelangelo', 'Dreams of Hero', 'Time and Tide' and 'The Party Guest' amongst others.
She has had a couple of professional rehearsed readings, and a generous Award from the Arts Council (as was) which led to a fruitful research trip to Italy.
She has a fairly eclectic approach to subject matter; she has explored the 1919 Amritsar Massacre, and the life of Lucrezia Borgia, but has also enjoyed dreaming up an aunt and niece duo on a dusty holiday in Pompeii, or the tensions among a group of close friends when one of their number dies.
Her most recent full-length play – still looking for a home – is 'She', rooted in British colonial Africa. This last has proved, if nothing else, how much easier historical research is now in the days of the internet.
New Years Day written by Lucy Flannery and directed by Jacquie Penrose.
A man needs to take pride in his work. A man needs his dignity. A man needs not to have boiled sweets thrown at him.
Stan - David Penrose
"New Year's Day was inspired by my son showing me a video on YouTube; I don't want to say what it was about and spoil the surprise, but you'll definitely be able to work it out after seeing the play. It's worth a look!"
Lucy Flannery is an award-winning writer with experience of theatre, radio, film, TV, fiction and non fiction. She was the 2020 Writer-in-Residence at the University of Plymouth and her plays Poisoned Beds and Lydia and George [co-authored with Greg Mosse] have both been performed at The Spring. Today, her monologue for Lost Souls Theatre, is available on most podcast platforms, including Spotify and iTunes.
Other credits include A Business Affair (with Christopher Walken), Like a Daughter (with Alison Steadman) and The Story of Tracy Beaker. Her radio sitcoms Rent and Any Other Business are available on BBC Radio 4 Extra and Audible.
Her short stories Calm Down, Dear and The Cabinet won The Brighton Prize and Bognor Writers' Prize respectively, and her novel Wedding Stakes was a finalist in the Exeter Novel Prize.
Lucy leads the Get Playwriting! and Script Lab courses at Chichester Festival Theatre. She is an RLF Consultant Fellow and a member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Radio Committee. She has recorded several podcasts for the RLF. Find her on Twitter @writerflanners but don't laugh at the hat!
Issie and Dora written by Stephen Mollett and directed by Sue Dawes.
Ageing Dora has grown fond of the young agency carer who comes to her house. Today Dora decides to share a secret about her identity. Can it be true?
Dora - Di Wallsgrove
Laura - Emily Goodden
"People can sometimes feel cut off from their true self, especially after a major accident. I was interested in creating a sharp, witty, intelligent older woman, who feels her adventurous self has been buried. While writing it, I discovered that the split she feels might be real – and jumped at the chance to dramatise that possibility."
Stephen has written eight plays for BBC Radio 4 in a variety of genres, including two plays which have been repeated recently: 'A House Halfway to Africa', a drama about Van Gogh while at the asylum in Saint Remy; and 'The Visitors' Book', a surreal romantic comedy set in St Ives. Three other radio plays take place in Budapest where Stephen lived for a year during the communist regime (and no, he wasn't a spy), where he wrote and directed 'The Paprika File', a 20-minute quirky film part financed by the British Council and Hungarian Ministry of Culture.
For television, Stephen has written five episodes of the BBC1 drama series 'Doctors', including 'Chef' which features the first television performance of Phoebe Waller-Bridge! He was also commissioned to write the pilot episode of a series of his own devising while taking part in Carlton TV screenwriting workshops.
His stage play for young people was given staged readings during a national tour of the Oxford Stage Company in 1997. Recently his full-length stage play 'Beyond the Wall' was long listed for the Papatango Prize. In 2020 two mini radio dramas were produced by INK Festival and broadcast on Radio Suffolk.
Stephen was co-centre director of the Arvon Foundation in Devon from 1988 to 1990, and then tutored on a couple of Arvon courses himself. He has taught many forms of creative writing, at Bath Spa University and then at the University of Chichester for many years. He is currently enjoying the challenge of writing short stage plays and a novel, and is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Portsmouth University. He is married, has two children in their twenties, and lives in Midhurst.
Bad Day At The Office written by Lucy Flannery and directed by Claire Lyne.
The management consultants have been in, there's been a re-branding exercise and it's time for your annual appraisal. Can it get any worse?
Horseman - Alan Welton
HR Manager - Megan Green
"Bad Day at the Office was first performed at the Heaven and Hell Showcase of New Writing at the Bear Theatre, London. Ironically, I missed this performance because I was on a train to Leicestershire to run – wait for it - a management workshop. So I’m doubly thrilled that it's getting the Bench treatment."
Plays Set 2
Performances Wednesday 7th, Friday 9th and Sat 10th evenings (7.30)
Montgomery written by Roger Goldsmith and directed by Jacquie Penrose.
Montgomery is a desk clerk in a hotel. Lily is a hooker who uses the hotel for business. The two people get on very well. Given the right circumstances they might get on even better!
Montgomery - David Penrose
Lily - Lorraine Stone
"I thought of the title 'Montgomery' and built the play around the name. As often happens. The title comes first. The rest follows. Or not."
Roger's stage play 'It Started with a Touch' was part of Wimbledon Studios 'Fresh Ideas'. It was also staged at Barons Court Theatre, and in Columbia by Talking Horse Theatre.
Roger was the winner of the 5 Minute and One Act Lost Theatre Play festivals for 'The Tackle' and ‘Birth’. His play 'Runaway’ was staged in Toronto by Small But Mighty Theatre.
Roger is a member of the Royal Court Writers' group of 2016. Roger's next production 'Pigeons' will be at the Bread & Roses Theatre in London in May 2021. He is currently working on a play about Althea Gibson, the first black tennis player to win Wimbledon.
Bear Hunt written by Lucy Flannery and directed by Julie Burt-Wood.
Robert just wants a quiet time. But there's something badly wrong with his wife. And something badly wrong with his life.
Mel - Sally Hartley
Robert - Peter Woodward
"Bear Hunt debuted at the Festival of Chichester, in the steaming hot summer of 2018. It was due to be staged at both Ink Festival and Totton Festival of Drama in 2020 but obviously that didn't happen. I'm so pleased to see Bench perform it at last; I feel the events of the last twelve months have given it an added poignancy."
Being Neighbourly written and directed by Jacquie Penrose.
Stella is a very ordinary 50-something woman. A bit lonely, a bit isolated, but essentially decent. When her new neighbour turns out to be a young black woman, her attempts at neighbourliness aren't quite what she imagined.
Stella - Megan Green
"This difficult year has brought to the fore just how embedded racism still is in our society, much of it unconscious. I wanted to create a character who, for all her good intentions, cannot help but respond to her neighbour in unconscious racist ways."
The Spy Who Bugged Me written and directed by Mark Wakeman.
David is eating his lunch alone in the park when he meets an unexpected stranger who won't take no for an answer.
David - Tyrone Baptiste
Heather - Jo Langfield
Man - David Penrose
"In what has been a very stressful and horrible year for one and all, I have tried to cheer myself up by writing a lot of comedy. Making up silly jokes to myself was very therapeutic and this was one of them.
I've written a lot of plays for the Bench now, so I'm reaching the point where it's getting difficult to find new scenarios as I don't like to repeat myself. So, I was struggling for inspiration. However, like many other people this year I've also watched a lot of box sets that I'd been meaning to get round to. One of them was 'The Americans' about Russian sleeper agents. So, with that rattling around in my brain I thought, what if someone was just minding their own business, eating their lunch, when a Russian Spy sat down next to them….and that was it, I was off and this play was the result."
Mark started writing for the Bench with their first Supernova New Writing festival and has had work included in every subsequent festival. He also wrote three of the Bench's Christmas shows beginning his Brothers Grimmer trilogy with 'Cinderella' and following it up with 'Aladdin' and 'Sleeping Beauty'.
The Bench also indulged him with a slot to perform a collection of new plays under the title of 'Mark My Words.'
Two of his Supernova plays were later published after they were featured in the Totton Festival of Drama where he has won the Best Original Script trophy five times.
His plays have also been performed at the Arundel, Bare Essentials, and Love Shots festivals and by various theatre companies both amateur and professional across the country.
|Stage Manager||Robin Hall|
|Assistant Stage Managers||Di Coates and Paul Millington|
|Lighting Design||Andrew Caple|
|Sound Design||Howard Alston|
|Lighting Operation||Andrew Caple|
|Sound Operation||Gina Farmer|
|Programme Editor||Derek Callam|
After a year like no other, it is fitting that Bench should be staging a show like no other. At the start of 2020 we were preparing for "Di and Viv and Rose", and when that finished it was unthinkable that 17 months, and several false starts, would go by before we were next on the stage. But, at last, here we are.
Our process of selecting plays is unusual, with each Bench production led by a director working toward his or her single vision. This time, the whole company committed to an idea. This has been very much a collective enterprise, involving many people who you won't see on the stage: writers, readers,directors, an amazing technical team and everybody who was due to be involved in a February production that wasn't possible. For all kinds of reasons - including a new baby - not all of those people who originally stepped up are with us tonight.
This show has had to overcome some novel challenges. As I write, I am not totally certain which plays you will be able to see, as we are all susceptible to potential isolation. All of the plays have been written (and in some cases redrafted) around complicated and changing guidance. Everyone who appears on the stage has contended with rehearsing in far from ideal conditions - on zoom, outside, in masks and at a distance - and to me it's amazing that they have brought these characters and stories to life.
Our path to performance has been twisty and winding, and it's been very difficult to know when we would reach our destination, but as a company we never doubted that we would be back. Telling stories is a very human thing - perhaps the most human thing - and not even a global pandemic was going to change that.This production is a testament to that belief in the importance of storytelling and to our collective endurance, and also to everyone who helps make live theatre happen; not least to you, our audience.
On behalf of all of us, thank you for being prepared to break the habit of staying in and venturing out to see our show. We hope the experience is as stimulating and entertaining for you as it has been for us.
Robin Hall (Producer)
For the first time in over a year, I've been to the theatre. Bench Theatre, one of the most creative of the local companies, are back at The Spring in Havant with two evenings of self-penned, self-directed work. Frankly, even if it had been awful, after the theatrical drought forced upon us by 2020, I'd have been delirious.
However, Programme A – the first of the evenings – was far from awful. It was unpredictable, funny and even a little terrifying in places. Programme A begins with Face the Music by Jacquie Penrose, a nice, honest and genuine exploration of what happens when friendship suddenly isn't friendship anymore, unexpectedly, surprisingly and border-crossingly changing its form. Alex Eels and Emily Goodden deliver nicely under Jacquie Penrose's direction, coping admirably with the distancing restrictions.
Second is David Penrose in Lucy Flannery's sublime New Year's Day. The text is probably the richest of the four plays and the journey taken the cleverest. I love a piece of theatre that presents you with a ludicrous scenario, expects you to engage fully, without questioning, and wait for the situation to explain itself. Flannery and Penrose deliver, again under the direction of Jacquie Penrose.
Thirdly comes Issie and Dora by Stephen Mollett. This is an oddy-but-goody. Just as you think you know where it's going there's a sharp change of direction. This piece offers laughs but a sudden chilling twist at the end. Sue Dawes' direction is minimal and Di Wallsgrove as Dora takes the script and runs, twisting and turning with it. If I could ask one thing from her, it would be to direct more of the conversation to Emily Goodden, sharing the stage with her, rather than playing it out front.
Lastly on this first evening was Lucy Flannery's Bad Day At The Office, directed by Claire Lyne. Here, Megan Green's HR Manager is carrying out a work-review for Alan Welton. To name Welton's character is to throw a huge spoiler-shaped spanner into the works, which is bad form from any reviewer. Suffice it to say that he's no run of-the-mill worker! This one, occasionally, felt perilously under-rehearsed and one got the feeling that lines were being dropped. As a result it didn't wholly hang together.
That said – it's been a year since any of these people, since any of our local actors, have had a chance to perform. Should there be seats available, please try to get along. Sitting in a theatre again feels very good indeed.
The second night of Bench's return to the world of theatre after the silence of 2020 comprises four more self-penned, self-directed one-act plays and – to my mind – this selection contained the finest of the eight plays, but more of that later.
Programme B begins with Roger Goldsmith's Montgomery, directed by Jacquie Penrose with David Penrose as the title character, a hotel desk-clerk and Lorraine Stone as a prostitute who uses a room in the hotel to entertain. Neither character is particularly sympathetic, here, and so it's hard to make a connection. Penrose's performance is, unsurprisingly, wonderful, but Montgomery, as written, is not a nice man and one really can't become involved.
Next on the agenda is Lucy Flannery's nicely-crafted Bear Hunt in which the nature of grief is explored – and cleverly so. Sally Hartley as Mel and Peter Woodward as Robert respond well to Julie Burt-Wood's straightforward direction and the twist in the tale is good and clever and very up-to-the-minute. Because of the nature of the piece, Woodward's struggle with the dialogue and Hartley's complete inability to help him out was obvious – but that's a small gripe in an otherwise enjoyable and thought-provoking piece.
Next is Being Neighbourly, written and directed by Jacquie Penrose with Megan Green as Stella. Remember my earlier tease with regard to the finest of the eight plays? Ah! Well – here we are! This is a wonderful bit of writing exploring the innate racism of a declared non-racist. As played by Green, Stella's unknowing, passive racism is stomach-churningly disturbing. She says she isn't racist; she believes she isn't racist and all the time she reeks of the worst of humanity. Excellent.
Lastly the lightest of the evening's offerings, Mark Wakeman's absurdist The SpyWho Bugged Me where innocent David (Tyrone Baptiste) is mistaken for a Russian spy by – well – another Russian spy, played by Jo Langfield. This is high comedy indeed, dipping its toes into everything from wordplay to impressions to slapstick. Does it say anything about the meaning of life? No, of course it doesn't. Does it make you laugh? Well and truly! Langfield's restraint and Baptiste's energy work very well together.
Theatre, it's good to see you back.