FRINGE 2019 – Benchmarks – The Breakout at the Mill – 3.5K

Alexander Ewers

Benchmarks is a thought-provoking theatre piece that whilst imperfect in delivery, excels in its ability to create collisions of the unlikely.

Ivan, veteran of homelessness, faces a disruptive crisis with the unexpected advent of teenage truant, Luke. Their disparate trajectories intersect in the darkest hour of the night; an hour when animal suspicion vies with the primal need for companionship; the hour in which reality and fantasy break their bounds and being to blur. Amidst the terrifying blackness, a graffiti scrawled park bench stands as a solitary concrete idea adrift in the unknown. It is to this bench that the two protagonists cling, and around it that their conflict frets and rages.

Benchmarks is ostensibly about homelessness. John Hincks portrays the character Ivan convincingly. Ivan stirs that insidious blend of pity and fascinated indifference to which benumbed state of limbo the homeless are often consigned by the passer-by. The character feels believable. The evinced response feels authentic. Luke too (played by Chris Phillip) brings a realism to his role, the tangency of hubris and misplaced passion that typify teenage angst. From a production perspective, the show’s simplicity of set design and production achieves a sense of the empty void in which the dialogues and conflicts of the plot unfold. It is a story that shines strongly in moments of powerful oratory and theatrical performance. Benchmarks does however, tread a little closely at times to the edge of credibility. Some scenes lack heart or seem disjointed. In particular, some of Luke’s interactions with Ivan feel contrived, perhaps attributable in part to shallow script-writing content and perhaps in part to the manner of spoken delivery. Whilst Luke felt most convincing during his monologue sections, Ivan conversely felt less nuanced and developed during his solo tirades. Rather, his strongest scenes were those of shared dialogues, during which he owned not just his character but the entire stage atmosphere. Such dissatisfactions, although not entirely stalling the momentum of the performance, did make for instances of distraction from the singularity of audience investment in the themes being woven.

Said themes range far more widely than simply an expose on homelessness. Benchmarks is about a meeting of opposites, and yet one that is less about negation than about perspective challenging. Hope encounters not hopelessness, but cynicism. Physical power does not overcome, but is met with mental subjugation. Youth encounters the agility rather than the infirmity of age. This paradigm shift is transmitted to the audience experience, most notably with regard to the inanimate centrepiece of the show, the eponymous bench. The bench is no ordinary pew. It is at once a home, a kingdom, a bed, a refuge, a judicial dais. It is the context for critical analysis of societal norms, of sources of meaning, of life purpose. It is both materially real and a morphing construct on which is hung the fabric of the show.

Benchmarks is a show that, even if imperfect, stimulates thought. What makes for homelessness? Why do the homeless remain homeless? What do the homeless think? At curtain call, one is left with a novel desire: to collide worlds with a homeless citizen and sit a while on their bench. To ask them about the graffiti in their lives. To ask the meaning of the marks on their bench.

Kryztoff Rating 3.5K

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