Review: Benched (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), May 25 – 29, 2022
Playwright: Jamila Main
Director: Amy Sole
Cast: Jamila Main
Images by Darlinghurst Theatre Company

Theatre review
Jamila sits on a bench, and with each guest that joins them, they tell an autobiographical story, depending on which prop the guest chooses. It could be a sneaker, a frisbee, a pair of googles, a volleyball or a football. In Benched, the stories are about sport, or more precisely, they are about physical activity, as it relates to the artist, who had in recent years, become disabled.

Each yarn lasts approximately 15 minutes, and is presented directly to the guest who steps on stage. For those who sit within the auditorium, we have the pleasure of witnessing Jamila performing to six different guests, telling and partially re-telling these stories, about loss and despair, inspiration and awakenings.

Benched is revelatory and powerful, but also painful. It is about a young life that has to change course drastically and unexpectantly, involving an abundance of disillusionment that befalls its subject, not only prematurely, but at a level of intensity rarely surpassed. Jamila Main’s theatrical creation places front and centre, the struggles of one person whose challenges are yet to be a matter of recollection; they are going through it in real time on stage, even though their reflective attitude is admirably generous.

As much as Main’s show is about their personal experiences, the passion they demonstrate about Benched being a mouthpiece for wider disabled communities, is unmistakeable. Indeed, to raise awareness around the lack of opportunities and representation for those who live with disabilities, is a worthy cause, and in this show, we see how much of the world can benefit, from understanding things through those perspectives.

As a writer Main’s degree of honesty is almost self-sacrificial, and certainly immediately resonant. As a performer, they are thoroughly likeable, with an uncanny ability to read and manoeuvre the crowd, which is an important quality for this most intimate of theatre styles. Directed by Amy Sole, the show is extremely sensitive, but also gently humorous, with a spirit of inclusiveness that feels unparalleled and sadly, exceptional. Benched is ultimately a small work, but everything that it does, reveals all the possibilities that we have been ignoring, not only in art, but also in living.