Play review by Julia Pattison: The Park Keeper at The Friends’ Garden, Rowntree Park, York

Play: The Park Keeper

Monday, 12th July 2021, 7:56 am
This production of The Park Keeper will be remembered long after it’s been performed. Photo by Mike Kenny/

Venue: The Friends’ Garden, Rowntree Park, York

Dates: Until Saturday, July 17, 2021

Review: Julia Pattison

To mark the centenary of when Messrs Rowntree and Co generously gifted Rowntree Park to the city of York, as a memorial to the cocoa works staff who fell and suffered during the First World War, artistic director of Engine House Theatre, Matt Aston commissioned York playwright Mike Kenny to write a solo play.

Mike came up with a script telling the story of ‘Parky’ Bell, who had the post of park keeper at Rowntree Park for the years between the wars, cleverly weaving biographical detail with universal themes such as the value of life, and reflections on a life lived.

Combine this with director Matt Aston’s input and actor Sean McKenzie’s passionate performance, and you have a production that will be remembered long after it’s been performed.

I felt as if I was in a bubble of bliss as I watched this powerful monologue listening through headphones; the sun was shining, and all around me beautiful Rowntree Park was lush and green.

It was an inspired idea to begin the show with the monologue Love Song To Spring by Hannah Davies, making you appreciate nature’s beauty all around, giving Hope even at the worst of times.

That’s exactly what ‘Parky’ Bell discovered after his horrendous experiences as a young naïve soldier in WW1, the slow, healing power of Nature, coming to love his job as park keeper so much that he didn’t want to retire,

“If you love your work it’s not work is it?”, he reflects, and “This is where I belong”.

I don’t think I’ll ever look at Rowntree Park again without reflecting on the poignant musings of this stoic Yorkshire man. We were privy to his innermost thoughts; generally Yorkshire men are not known for showing their feelings, yet feel them they do. I had a lump in my throat as ‘Parky’ agonised about his strained relationship with his son, who died in the very last week of the war.

A nod to poet Wilfred Owen dying only days before the end of WW1; so many young men cut down in their prime.

Sean McKenzie was ‘Parky’ Bell through and through. Reflections, interspersed with good old Yorkshire humour, bringing the imaginary children and ourselves to attention with that famous shrill whistle, to questioning concepts of Hope and Faith, Sean’s delivery was outstanding, and he commanded the space throughout.

Good drama makes you think and reflect, and this was drama at its best. It moved me so much that I plan to see this marvellous monologue again.