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Phil Hopkins
Arts & Travel Editor
10:00 AM 29th August 2020

Taking Its Toll On The Psyche!

Photo: Northedge Photography
Photo: Northedge Photography
When it is your first visit to the theatre in five months – albeit in the open air battling the elements – expectations are running high.

However, as wonderful as Lisa Howard’s 50-minute performance in Every Time A Bell Rings was, me and my two friends left waterlogged Rowntree Park in York feeling we’d just had one too many doses of reality!

I accept that Park Bench Theatre are delivering a range of different mini productions between now and September 5th – and fair play to them for organising this mammoth operation – but on a night when the rain was pounding, a performance about Covid, domestic abuse, controlling relationships and death, left you feeling as uplifted as a sheep in a slaughterhouse.

During the Second World War movies about musicals packed the cinemas because they were ‘feelgood flicks’. People were tired of conflict and needed something resembling escapism.

And why should we be so different now? For months we’ve had Boris, Covid, lockdown, death and something just short of bubonic plague – at least that’s how it feels – so, for me, I would rather have watched a good film than trek to the park on a wet night to witness another dose of reality: truthfully, I’d already had enough and when ‘Boris’’ voice entered my headphones my stomach dropped.

But, credit where it’s due.

Photo: Northedge Photography
Photo: Northedge Photography
Lisa Howard was excellent as the main protagonist and director Tom Bellerby teased out every line, nuance and emotional turn from his actor.

Every Time A Bell Rings – a veiled reference to James Stewart’s famous film, It’s a Wonderful Life and the idea that every time someone dies another angel comes to life - tells the story of ‘Cathy’ as she emerges from lockdown.

It is poignant and real: Cathy looks at how the world is changing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and reflects on the ups and downs of her life including the impact of bereavement.

However, I didn’t need to go to York for an overview of Covid-19; I just need to go to Aldi or Morrisons where security types keep reminding me to cover my mouth unless I’m in the café.

This particular production was not for me although I remain at pains to stress that it was beautifully directed and acted. I just didn’t want to be exposed to more of this type of reality.

However, top marks to Park Bench Theatre for finding a venue, creating circles on the grass – each ‘bubble’ could hold four – and giving everyone an excellent audio experience. For that, much applause and well done everyone. You have brought theatre back to life even if the content, on this occasion, was a little too funerial for me!

Engine House Theatre presents Park Bench Theatre, Friends Garden, Rowntree Park, York, until September 5
Cassie Vallance in Teddy Bears’ Picnic, August 29; August 31; September 1 to 5, 11.30am and 1.30pm.
Lisa Howard in Every Time A Bell Rings, Tonight and August 31 to September 5, 7pm, plus