The Park Bench Series is a set of six skits written and directed by Perth-based playwright Noel O’Neill. Mainly comedic in tone and content, the skits centre on conversations and confrontations that unfold on and around a park bench. The bench becomes a site of provocation, deliberation, commiseration and (inevitably) inebriation, and the audience is invited to eavesdrop and ponder.
Each skit has a distinct storyline, but there are some common threads that tie them all together. One is the theme of fraught relationships between men and women. Man’s Best Friend presents a couple at loggerheads over the man’s allegedly overzealous affection for his dog. A jealous girlfriend presents a litany of hilariously detailed complaints about how her partner’s canine companion dominates his affections at her expense. He tries to pacify and assuage her fears, but blunderingly ends up stoking her resentments.
A despondent theatre director and nearly blind comedian in The Passion Play and Out of Sight respectively grapple with the professional and personal strains posed by the seemingly difficult and overprotective women in their lives. In The Lake, three women who went to university together and remained friends afterwards discuss and critically compare their different ways of handling their idiosyncratic husbands.
There’s a sense that men and women constantly misunderstand each other and invariably wind each other up because they fundamentally think so differently. There’s an ex-wife in Three-Way Split who brings her two former husbands together to get their joint blessing for her third wedding – so that she can start her new life with a clean slate. She expects that a gracious blessing from her exes before she embarks on her next marriage will suffice to wipe the acrimony of the past. But the two bewildered ex-husbands find the symbolism of the requested concession outrageous. The tragicomedy of the battle of the sexes undergirds the skits in this series.
With the exception of two forays into the US, the skits in this series present reassuringly familiar Australian characters one might associate with suburbia, perhaps even in Perth. Their quirky domestic squabbles and intrigues are proximate enough to evoke both amusement and sympathy. The playwriting is clever and philosophical, replete with literary allusions ranging from Shakespeare to Casablanca. The actors bring an endearing joviality and earnestness to their performances.
The setting of the Old Mill Theatre itself is delightfully quaint. There is an old-world charm to this venue with its cosy theatre and bar, nostalgic theatre posters on polished wooden walls, classic club furniture, considerate hot beverage offerings in between shows and genteel atmosphere. It was lovely to discover this venue in South Perth.
Park Bench Series 2
Writer and director: Noel O’Neill
Old Mill Theatre, WA
Sound and light operator: Callum Hunter
Cast: Mona Afshar, Amanda Alderson, Phil Barnett, Michael Dornan, Rex Gray, Alitia Harnisch, Bev Lawrence, Vivienne Marshall, John McCarthy, Aidan Murphy, Noel O’Neill, Sherilee Wash-Bowser
Park Bench Series will be performed until 10 September 2023.