All the Bens
Ian Townsend, adapted for audio by Ian Winterton
This play began as the last of Ian Townsend's three permitted entries into Manchester's great new writing festival—sadly no longer running—24:7 Theatre Festival in 2012, winning the Best Fringe award at the Manchester Theatre Awards. Over lockdown, it has been rewritten during lockdown as an audio play by Ian Winterton, another successful 24:7 writer who won the same award the year before for his play Sherica.
The original stage piece was told by the three characters, taking turns, from their own points of view directly to the audience, but the audio version focuses on Ben (Nathaniel Hall), beginning with a very special night with someone calling himself Al (Jack Bence) whom he met through an app (the 'chatroom' of the original no doubt seeming a little dated now). He reports back to his brother Henry (Finn Walters) that Al is a 'seven-and-a-half'.
Henry goes to a special school for an unspecified learning difficulty but is obsessed with numbers, measuring his days on a scale from one to seven, so a 'seven-and-a-half' is pretty special. The title partly comes from the bingo call "all the sevens" and partly... well, you'll have to listen to the end to find that bit out.
However, Henry spots straight away that the phone number Al has given to Ben is invalid, and his name is probably fake as well. We find out later, when they run into one another by accident, that 'Al' has a girlfriend and keeps his sexuality hidden from people he knows. Things come to a head when some men who have been beating Ben up put him in hospital, and Al steps aside and does nothing.
It's a nice story of the awkwardness of the start of a relationship with the complications of hidden or denied sexuality and the naïve observations of Henry add a great deal to it. The characters aren't quite as fleshed out without the personal viewpoints of Al and Henry, but it still works well enough in this 50-minute, audio-only format.
It's available now from the usual podcast platforms for free and is certainly worth a listen.
Reviewer: David Chadderton