Darlinghurst Theatre Company is proud to present the NSW premiere of BENCHED, written by and starring actor and award-winning playwright Jamila Main. This candid piece of immersive theatre enjoyed sold-out seasons in South Australia in 2021 and featured at the 2022 Midsumma Festival. It invites eight audience members to choose a ball, shoe or frisbee before joining Main on the bench for an intimate moment of rumination on athleticism within a disabled body. 

“I don’t think of myself as a sporty person. I didn’t think I’d be disabled by my early twenties,” says Main, whose autobiographical storytelling allows disabled and chronically ill people to commiserate and celebrate disability together, while putting frank, nuanced portrayals of disabled bodies into public view. 

“I was originally commissioned to make a performance work for a couple of hundred bucks for a one-off night of experimental art in Adelaide, commissioned by FELTspace Gallery. At the time I was going through a horrible flare up. I made BENCHED  in my bathtub, meditating on my true childhood memories of sport and athleticism, in contrast to my current declining mobility.”

“I have a dynamic disability, my mobility and pain changes from day to day, hour to hour. I wanted to create an intimate show that feels epic in its emotional proportions; a chance where I can sit on the bench and share truths about disability we rarely have the opportunity to tell or hear.”

Kate Mulvany mentored Main and was dramaturgical adviser on the development of BENCHED.

“Jamila has a breathtaking ability of taking theatre and turning it into something completely unique and unexplored,” Mulvany says. “They take a simple conversation and turn it into a modern-day communion. BENCHED is an exploration of human confabulation that will open your heart and your mind and give you a glorious new perspective of the human body in all its forms and functions.” 

Mulvany continues, “BENCHED is one of the most uniquely personal theatre journeys you will ever take. Gently profound, provocatively insightful … it is an utterly captivating conversation between performer and audience that will leave you feeling seen, and open your senses to the world outside.”

To make that “theatre journey” as pleasurable as possible, audiences will be able to choose from a variety of viewing options to suit their individual needs.

“One in six Australians is disabled,” says Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Accessibility Manager and Producer of BENCHED Jacqueline Tooley, “and 80% of all disabilities are invisible. For this reason, we have taken every opportunity to make BENCHED the most accessible production ever presented by Darlinghurst Theatre Company.”

Audiences can buy a ticket to sit on the bench with Jamila for ten minutes at a time, or observe the show from their seat in the auditorium. One-on-one sessions without an audience will be available in person and via Zoom, while an Auslan interpreted performance will see two-way, simultaneous interpretation for the audience and those on the bench. Audiences can also choose to watch a live-streamed performance on 29 May, or a pre-recording at their own convenience. 

The pre-recorded performance is the most affordable viewing option, while still providing an authentic experience to the audience. Watching it, Kate Mulvany said, “I can TASTE the zing of those orange wedges.”   

Until now, Benched has only been presented one-on-one, with Jamila and a single spectator interacting on the bench. This upcoming season at the Eternity Playhouse is being directed by Amy Sole and will see the work performed before a larger audience for the first time. 

Main says, “Taking BENCH from the art galleries, small indie theatres, and the back room of a rural town hall, to the mainstage of the Eternity Playhouse is an exciting challenge. I leapt at the chance to expand the world of  to include a larger audience, I think we’re all going to share a special moment on the sidelines together.” 

Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Amylia Harris, sees BENCHED  as a vital part of her strategy to make theatre as inclusive as possible. 

“We are moving away from traditional theatre-making toward the creation of experiences that engage our whole community,” Harris says. “Alongside the performance, we have transformed the foyer of the Eternity Playhouse into a gallery space and invited Ruby Allegra to mount an exhibition that ties in with the themes addressed in the play .” 

Discussing the mixed media pieces on display, Ruby Allegra says, “I am exploring the joyful and painful moments of disabled childhood through the curation of works by disabled artists as they consider their younger self, or their inner child.”

The exhibition will be on view throughout the run of the play and Jacqueline Tooley hopes it will add another layer to the message conveyed by Jamila Main’s performance. 

“I would like disabled humans to rejoice at having their stories echo through the Eternity Playhouse,” Tooley says. “I want this to be a joyful, conversational and thought-provoking experience that unites us and encourages non-disabled humans to reconsider their assumptions about disability, as well as acknowledging the fleeting nature of their own abled-ness.” 

Kate Mulvany is confident Benched will resonate with audiences. 

“Jamila Main is the vigorous and vibrant voice of a new wave of Australian playwrights. Their writing goes straight into the heart of now.”

Mulvany adds, “Jamila’s performance is just as beautiful as the script. I encourage you to spend time with them on the bench … You won’t forget them or their story.”

BENCHED  will be presented by Darlinghurst Theatre Company from 25 – 29 May. For more information and bookings please visit: https://www.darlinghursttheatre.com/benched