All The Bens – King’s Arms, Salford (GM Fringe 2019)

Ben likes Al, even though he has a strange fetish for the A&E department. He met him online, but isn’t even sure that Al is his real name. Well, it’s better than “Master1507“.

Al just wanted a quick blowjob in the hospital’s disabled toilet, but now Ben thinks their relationship is more serious than that. There is one slight problem, Al has a girlfriend.

Henry is Ben’s brother, and likes playing in the park with Al. He also likes numbers, particularly the number 7. When the triumvirate meet, their lives are irreversibly changed.

All The Bens GM Fringe Kings Arms Salford Ian Townsend 1972 Productions James Schofield Manchester Theatre Review
Al (Tom Sidney), Ben (Adam Jowett) and Henry (Deane Dixon-Foster).

Ian Townsend‘s All The Bens is a contemporary love story that focuses on the difficult relationships between three men, and explores relevant LGBTQ+ issues in a frank and uncompromising manner.

Townsend’s play is perfectly poised to be both comical and moving, in equal measure. The three main characters are rendered with precision, as the narrative is told from each person’s perspective. They are all flawed individuals, yet evidently vulnerable, and ultimately human. They each have a comprehensive character arc, which makes them entirely appealing to audience, and to the actors playing the roles.

The strength of Townsend’s play is reflected in the magnificent performances from all three principle actors. Additional credit has to be given for the sweltering conditions that they performed in, as temperatures reached 40°c in the King’s Arms.

This must be particularly uncomfortable for Tom Sidney, as his character wears tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie throughout. However, it doesn’t show. Sidney’s Al is a mysteriously complex figure, who is initially aloof but softens by the end of the play, as he comes to terms with his sexuality. Sidney’s performance gradually strips back Al’s defensive façade, as the reasons behind his insecurities are revealed, deftly creating sympathy for a character who is initially abrasive.

All The Bens GM Fringe Kings Arms Salford Ian Townsend 1972 Productions James Schofield Manchester Theatre Review
Ben (Adam Jowett) and Al (Tom Sidney).

Likewise, Adam Jowett superbly portrays his character’s vulnerabilities. As an openly gay man, Ben is subjected to homophobic abuse on a daily basis. It doesn’t help that he initiates fights in pubs as an outlet for his isolation. In the play’s most poignant scene, Ben is a victim of a brutally violent homophobic assault. Without dialogue, Jowett renders the devastating violence inflicted during the attack, by curling into a protective ball, a foetal position so powerless that this scene is quite harrowing. Even without the assailants being depicted on stage, Jowett’s performance makes this a breathtaking, powerful scene.

Despite these two actors being brilliant, it is Deane Dixon-Foster who steals the show for me. Giving an exquisite performance, he portrays Henry’s learning difficulties with the utmost care and respect. His mannerisms; facial twitches, fidgeting, and a stammer, articulate that Henry has a disability without overtly stating what it is. Dixon-Foster also inserts a great deal of humour into his character. The play doesn’t poke fun at people with learning difficulties. Instead, Henry is the sharpest character, with the most witty dialogue.

All The Bens is a beautiful play centred around three complex, wonderful characters brought to life by a triumvirate of incredible actors. A delicate balance of humour and pathos, Ian Townsend’s remarkable play is part of the GM Fringe and certainly deserves to be played to larger audiences.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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