Encompass Productions presents 'Bare Essentials' – New Writing / Theatre Review

Now in their fifth year, Encompass Productions continue to provide what could be described as one of the most exciting new writing nights in London, ‘Bare Essentials’. Eschewing the title of ‘scratch night’ this is something else altogether; an evening of ‘micro theatre.’ Each well-written piece is rehearsed in-depth, with quality actors, talented directors and all on zero budget! That means, no fancy lights, no huge sets, just pure theatre - raw and real. Encompass put in all the effort they would with one of their brilliant full-length shows into six, or in this case, a cheeky seven, perfect little pieces of performance. (P.S. If you missed the amazing ‘Stasis’ earlier this year, more fool you…) There is always a pleasing range of styles and themes, and this Bare Essentials was no different.

Starting with the tongue-in-cheek 'Ctrl, Alt Delet'e by Dan Page, we are privy to an interesting little business meeting. Sending up the business world, writers under pressure, increasing reliance on technology and the potential risks of this, you can tell Page is used to writing satirical sketches and comic shorts. A fun little piece, where Rachael Owens – also our humorous compere for the night – shines as the inflexible and forthright manager, Sandra. The highlight was probably the quick deconstruction of any/all Tom Cruise movie/s, cleverly directed by Jonathan Woodhouse with a series of humorous hand movements. (Spoiler Alert: They’re all the same.)

A real change of gear with Dean Moynihan’s 'The Leaving of Things' - an incredibly moving piece that unveiled its startling secrets with delicacy. Hats off to actors James Barbour and Alice Corrigan for handling such difficult material with aplomb. Corrigan, as the stoic Emma, was utterly watchable, and Barbour poured every ounce of good humour into the extremely likeable Paul. Sensitive direction from Matt Beresford ensures the success of what could have potentially been a difficult piece in style and content.

'Panther' by R.J. Thomson was perhaps the most spell-binding piece of the night, with Alexander Pankhurst (a Bare Essentials regular) proving once again he is a master storyteller. Thomson’s poetic and captivating writing allows Pankhurst to move from endearing country boy, to raging farmer, to golden eyed big cat and back again. Intelligent direction from Liam Fleming allows Pankhurst to really inhabit the stage, rather than falling foul of the ‘stand-and-deliver’ monologue trap. This clever trio blend together well to skilfully paint the picture of a naïve young man’s search for the truth… and a panther.

Next up, David Wiener’s amusing piece, 'Feeding Time at the Human House'. We watch as two baboons, Fran and Bernie turn the tables and watch us from the comfort of their enclosure in the zoo. Excellent physicality from Liz McMullen and Pip Barclay really sells this piece, and it is an enjoyable, light-hearted piece. It also reveals the deadly truth about dolphins… I always suspected something…

'The News' by ‘up-and-comer’ Lucy Foster, is potentially the stand-out piece of the night. Directed by the writer, its natural delivery, intriguing yet simple story and intelligent cast combine to make a piece that feels the most developed. Indeed, this could be filmed and included in any BBC drama tomorrow. Jack Bence is incredible as the brash and guilt-ridden Craig, playing opposite the feisty and furious Hannah Lawrence as Gill. The adorable Joe Bence rounds the piece out as the peace-maker Mark, and delivers a beautifully nuanced performance. More of this please! I can’t wait to see what Foster comes up with for the brilliant ‘Ladylogue!’ at Tristan Bates this August.

Stephen Cooper’s 'Confessions à Deux' is an amusing piece revolving around the confessions of two priests; Father Gregory, an old-guard priest with a quiet way about him (played with gravitas by Graham Christopher) and Father Shannon (the intriguing Josh Morter). As the priests’ confessions unfold it becomes clear all is not as it seems. This was a genuinely laugh out loud piece, but perhaps could do with some tightening around the edges to streamline the (inevitable) gag.

'Nothing Could Surprise Me Now' by Alain G. Cloarec is a suitably upbeat and funny end to the evening, playing on a relatively simple concept – what if you woke up but found you could only narrate your own life in the third person? Michaela Frances Neal does a good job of directing a complicated piece that ends with a never ending stream of over the top characters narrating furiously. Robert Wallis is particularly funny as the smug Narrator 3 here.

Encompass Productions’ ‘Bare Essentials’ events seem to be approaching something of a cult status on the fringe scene. Repeat audiences and newcomers alike are hooked in to their unique concept of ‘theatre at its most elemental’ and I’m fairly certain you won’t find a warmer, more open and engaged audience anywhere. There’s a real feeling of support here, and Encompass reward this with incredible and clever theatre. As always, a solid and exciting evening of quality performance. Long may it continue…

Bare Essentials
London
The Take Courage Theatre, Amersham Arms
30th – 3rd July, 2015
7:30pm

Programme

Ctrl, Alt Delete by Dan Page
Directed by Jonathan Woodhouse
Sandra: Rachael Owens
Jane: Marcella Carelli
Alex: David England

The Leaving of Things by Dean Moynihan
Directed by Matt Beresford
Paul: James Barbour
Emma: Alice Corrigan

Panther by R.J. Thomson
Directed by Liam Fleming
Young Man: Alexander Pankhurst

Feeding Time at the Human House by David Wiener
Directed by Annemarie Highmore
Fran: Liz McMullen
Bernie: Pip Barclay

The News by Lucy Foster
Directed by Lucy Foster
Gill: Hannah Lawrence
Mark: Joe Bence
Craig: Jack Bence

Confessions A Deux by Stephen Cooper
Directed by Alice Kornitzer
Father Martin Gregory: Graham Christopher
Father Henry Shannon: Josh Morter

Nothing Could Surprise Me Now by Alain G. Cloarec
Directed by Michaela Frances Neal
Assistant Director: Chryssanthi Kouri
Narrator 1: Duncan Mason
Narrator 2: Louise Beresford
Narrator 3: Robert Wallis

Credits

Produced by Liam Fleming, Jonathan Woodhouse and Rachael Owens
Associate Producer – Katie Prested
Stage Manager – Marcella Carelli
Marketing Assistant – Matt Hayoukane

Encompass Productions
www.encompassproductions.co.uk
@EncompassOnline

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Friday 3rd July, 2015.

Author's review: 
4