Park Bench Theatre brings live theatre back to York with an outdoor season of monologues for all ages in the city’s Rowntree Park from 12 August to 5 September.

The productions will be presented in carefully laid out and spacious gardens, allowing audiences to keep socially distanced from each other.  The performances are:

First Love by Samuel Beckett

A man, a woman, a recollection. One of Samuel Beckett’s most masterful stories, First Love is awash with Beckett’s signature balancing of comedy and tragedy. Performed by Chris Hannon, directed by Matt Aston.

Running time 45 minutes approx. Contains very strong language.

Wed 12 – Sat 22 August, 7pm. 8 & 15 August, 4pm matinee.


Every Time a Bell Rings, premiere by Matt Aston.

Lockdown. Easter Sunday 2020. Cathy emerges from her own isolation and searches for solace on her favourite park bench in her favourite park. A touching, funny and poignant look at how the world is changing through these extraordinary times. Performed by Lisa Howard, directed by Tom Bellerby.

Contains very strong language. Running time 50 minutes approx.

Wed 19 Aug – Sat 5 Sept, 7pm. 22 Aug & 5 Sept, 4pm matinee


Teddy Bears’ Picnic

Premiere inspired by the song and based on an original idea by Julian Butler. Co-created and performed by Cassie Vallance, co-created and directed by Matt Aston.

Every year Jo’s family used to have a big family gathering – a teddy bears’ picnic. It was brilliant. Then she got too old and too cool for that sort of thing. So she stopped going. But now she’s grown up … she wishes she could have them all over again.

Running time 30 mins approx. Suitable for everyone aged 3 and over. Audiences are invited to bring along their favourite teddy and a picnic.

11.30am & 1.30pm on 19-22, 27-29, 31 August & 1-5 September



Matt Aston, artistic director of engine house theatre, says: “I used to do my daily lockdown exercise in Rowntree Park where I had the idea of someone sitting on a park bench and thinking about what they are going through. The isolation and the fact that she might actually have been isolated for many years. I then remembered First Love was also set on a park bench and the idea rolled on from that.


“It’s so exciting to be able to get to present some actual live theatre. A rarely-performed Samuel Beckett, a brand new play and something for all the family inspired by a classic song. All performed on and around a park bench.”


Matt directs First Love and Teddy Bears’ Picnic (of which he is co-creator) and is the author of Every Time a Bell Rings. Matt’s adaptations of the Benji Davies children’s books Grandad’s Island and The Storm Whale both proved big hits in the Studio at York Theatre Royal last Christmas.


Every Time a Bell Rings is directed by Tom Bellerby, who has directed work across the UK and Europe. He has been Resident Assistant Director at the Donmar Warehouse, Associate Artist at Pilot Theatre and was Associate Director at Hull Truck Theatre 2016-18, a key part of the team who delivered the theatre’s programme for the 2017 UK City of Culture.


The Park Bench Theatre performers are Lisa Howard, whose has worked extensively with both Northern Broadsides and Slung Low; Chris Hannon, pantomime dame at Theatre Royal Wakefield for over a decade and known to Cbeebies viewers as Dad in Topsy and Tim; and Cassie Vallance, who appeared in The Storm Whale in York Theatre Royal Studio last Christmas.


Helen Apsey, Head of Culture and Wellbeing at Make It York, said: “This is a fantastic initiative to bring live theatre back to York in the beautiful surroundings of Rowntree Park. It is a great addition to the city’s summer offering – providing a safe outdoor theatre experience designed for families and people of all ages.”


Abigail Gaines, Friends of Rowntree Park trustee, said: “We are thrilled to have open air theatre in Rowntree Park. The park has been a lifeline to many during lockdown, and hearing it inspired the writing of one of the plays makes hosting the performance even more meaningful. The park is a key place for families and we know they will love the family performances. The Friends of Rowntree Park always support Arts in the Park and are very much looking forward to the shows”.


In conversation with York City Council, and in line with current government guidance, Park Bench Theatre has implemented a range of measures to ensure the health and safety of audiences and staff. The measures are under constant review, and apply across all performances throughout the season.


The performance area: The Friends Garden in Rowntree Park in York. There is a pay and display car park located in Terry Avenue with some disabled bays. As this car park is small, audiences are advised to park in Castle Car Park and enjoy the short walk along the river to the site.

Headphones will be required to hear the dialogue, sound effects and music in performances. All audience members will be given a receiver on entry which headphones can be plugged into. Audiences are encouraged to bring their own (no wireless or Bluetooth ones – they must be ‘plug in’ headphones or earphones). You can purchase takeaway headphones for £1 when you book your ticket online, which can be collected when you visit.

Seating. People are encouraged to bring blankets in the first few rows and chairs in the back few rows.


Ticketing policy. If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, have been diagnosed with the virus or have been in direct contact with a diagnosed individual in the past 14 days, you must not attend the event. If unable to attend due to other illness, please contact the box office to arrange ticket transfer. Tickets can only be refunded if the booked performance has sold out.



Arriving. Gates will open an hour before each performance before the show start time to allow everyone to arrive at their leisure and avoid large queues. All tickets will be digital, and checked without contact at a social distance at the entrance to the performance area. There will be a one-way system to enter and exit the performance area.

Social distancing. Each household or social, bubble will be seated at a safe distance from other households or social bubbles. Volunteer stewards will direct audience members to their designated bubble.

Food and refreshments. Bring your own food and drink to all performances but note that no alcohol is allowed to be consumed in Rowntree Park.

Departure. Stewards will manage the departure so large crowds don’t all leave at the same time.

Toilets. All performances take place without an interval. The Rowntree Park toilets will be open before and after all performances.

Full details can be found on Park Bench Theatre website park bench



First Love

7pm on 12-15, 17-22 Aug

2pm on 15 & 22 Aug


Every Time a Bell Rings

7pm on 26-29 and 31 Aug & 1-5 Sept

2pm on 29 Aug & 5 Sept


Teddy Bears’ Picnic

11.30am & 1.30pm on 19-22, 27-29, 31 Aug & 1-5 Sept


Tickets are unreserved and cost £10 for First Time and Every Time a Bell Rings, and £5 for Teddy Bears’ Picnic.


You can find Park Bench Theatre on





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