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‘If I’m not a parkie then what am I’-In Review: The Park Keeper

The air is still a bit crisp when the first joggers appear in the morning. By the time the tennis friends start their game the ducks are already standing on two feet, with awoken ducklings hanging around. The mums with the children come later not long before the skate park becomes busy with fearless teenagers. But less know, between 1921 and 1945, a park keeper was part of the scene too.

This year, Rowntree Park celebrates its centenary and to honour this occasion, the Park Bench Theatre company’s new play The Park Keeper positions the public park in the focus of highlight.

For his play, the Olivier-award winning writer Mike Kenny was inspired by the only park keeper in the park’s history. The Park Keeper takes on a personal voice and questions our purpose after retirement.

Last spring the theatre company already delivered a socially spaced performance invigorating live shows after the months of lockdown. Sad enough to say, this year is not so different but the experience was similarly heart-lifting.

Picture credit: Fruzsina Vida

The audience gathered, some even brought chairs but most of us were happy sitting on the grass in socially distanced bubbles. (Literally painted circles on the grass).

The one-man play felt real and personal, which was enhanced even more by the intimacy of the atmosphere. No stage, no set boundaries between the audience and the actor, no lighting. The sunset was enough in itself as a set design. The actor Sean McKenzie, impersonating the park keeper was only a couple of meters away, his voice in our ears- through the portable sound system- made us feel all part of the park keepers personal narrative.

The one-man monologue takes the audience back to 1945 when the original park-keeper retired after decades of dedication to York’s popular leisure location. To celebrate the closure of a vitally important chapter in his life, the park keeper is preparing a worthy speech.

The audience gains more information about the park keeper’s personal victories and battles by listening to him, rehearsing the dialogue.

How can one deal in life without the constant validation opposed on us by the role we take in society? As a retired ‘parkie’ he is not a park keeper anymore. And as a father who lost his son is he not a father anymore either?

But then what role can one take after losing a ‘long term contract’ in life. Is it necessary to seek and put on a costume that portrays our acts?

The Park Keeper, directed by Matt Aston brought the theatre to Rowntree park between the 7th and the 17th of July.