An older man places a bunch of flowers on a bench as wistful music plays.
The Bench, Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre (Venue 76) ****
It feels like the start of the kind of dealing-with-death play that you may have come to fear at the Fringe. Luckily, comedian Keir McAllister’s writing is far sharper than the opening soundtrack and does a brilliant job of subverting any such expectations.
Sandy, the “custodian” of the flowers – pompous, posh and cantankerous – is furious to discover someone has disrupted his “memorial bench” to Maggie and instantly blames Joe, an office worker on his break. However, for someone who claims to be looking for peace and quiet, Joe (played by McAllister) is easily goaded into delivering well-observed rants about his right to sit wherever he wants, while Sandy (fellow comedian Paul Sneddon) makes a list of an ever-growing list of “hate crimes” he believes Joe has committed against him.
Both men are unreasonable, uncompromising and, it feels, are destined to go on a shared journey of self-discovery. And so their battle begins, but just when it feels it’s got nowhere else to go apart from reminiscing about the past, a series of very funny twists turn the story on its head.
As the memorial bench turns into a memorial to a memorial bench, McAllister sends up the paraphernalia of grieving, but also what we might expect from an older, condescending male character in a tweed hat and body warmer.
The piece ends too suddenly and it feels like there’s still more to say about what happens next to Joe and Sandy. The comedy has some inspired moments, but also allows the writing to swerve deeper emotions. However, when Sandy crosses out some of the abuse he’s written about Joe, it feels like the seeds of the unlikely friendship we’re all hoping for have finally been planted.
• Until 26 August, 2:15pm