On a cold wet winter evening what could be better than sitting in a nice pub theatre and having a good old Christmas laugh? Not much I’m sure you’ll agree and if you get yourself to The Amersham Arms for the seasonal rendition of Bare Essentials, a thoroughly entertaining night comprising of seven short plays
The evening started with the aptly named Surprise by Michael Perlmutter. Cindy (Louise Beresford) and Ted (James Unsworth) have been going out for a few months. Tonight, because Cindy loves the theatre, Ted has arranged what he hopes will be a life changing surprise for them both in a local theatre complete with an excited audience (that’s us) to watch things unfold. However, in the tradition of ‘best laid plans’ and all that, things take a very unexpected turn and the two do find their lives altered but in ways they could never have imagined.
This was a lovely start to the show with and worked really well as Ted got his surprise going – even getting the audience to shout out when he removed Cindy’s blindfold. I loved the way in which the atmosphere changed completely in such a short space of time and really wanted there to be a happy ending to the story.
Next up and we were off to the North Pole to meet a lady on a mission. In Patrick Gabridge’s Ms Claus we get to sit in on the interview panel for the next Santa – come on you didn’t really believe he was immortal did you? The panel consists of Barry (Steven Mortimer), Larry (Jonathan Woodhouse) and Harry (Zoltan Adorjan). So far, the candidates have not been great but the next one is a surprise to all three of the panel as in walks Tina (Laurie Harrington). Tina has wanted the job of Santa her entire life and is not planning to let anything or anyone get in the way of her ambition to don the red suit.
Aside from introducing the idea that Santa is replaceable, Ms Claus was another lovely piece. Without being strident or hectoring, Tina did more for female workplace equality in ten minutes than Germaine Greer has done her entire life in my opinion. I really enjoyed this piece and all four actors did a great job but I have to admit my favourite was Zoltan Adorjan’s Harry – a cynical, business orientated elf with a dark secret.
Next up and it was a trip to the oven for Spud by Robert Wallis where we were introduced to two foil wrapped potatoes (Duncan Mason and Liz McMullen) who had somehow managed to acquire cognisance at completely the wrong point in their respective lives. As the two of them try to work out what to do, they notice someone outside in the kitchen – will he be the help they need?
This piece was interesting in many ways, but mainly the amount of knowledge the two potatoes seemed to have of the world outside. It left me wondering if all potatoes are that intelligent or is it only during the baking process that they reach their full intellectual potential – which could explain why jacket potatoes are so very tasty.
Finishing off the first half, we had Ron Burch’s Three Elves Sitting Around Playing Poker a play with a wonderful title that sets the scene nicely. Rip (Alice Coles), Snip (Alexander Pankhurst) and Bungle (Jennie Delaney) are indeed playing poker and the stakes are high – Bungle has raised the bet to a candy cane and a jelly chew. Rip is not that interested in the game as she has news for the other two. News concerning the truth of Santa’s operations at the North Pole, and that’s all I’m going to say about this one.
This was my favourite play in the first half and I really loved all the various twists and turns as this piece finally confirmed all my suspicions about Santa and his Elves.
After the interval, we were back with an extract from a full length play – Little Wing by Juliette Quinen. It’s Thanksgiving time in New York and two brothers return home. Gil (Matthew Leigh) has returned from London to stay with his younger sibling Nils (Sam Dunstan) in their old house. There is obviously a lot of love between the two boys but also some tension as Nils is ill and Gil wants to help but can only seem to do so by ordering his younger brother about.
I have to be honest and say I wasn’t too sure about the inclusion of this piece in the show. Whilst both actors were really good, there wasn’t that much of an opportunity to get to know them before the excerpt was over. However, I have to admit that having seen this brief glimpse, I would really like to see the entire play now.
Back to the Christmas theme for the last two plays, starting off with Oh, Tannenbaum by Mark Harvey Levine. Liebowitz (Duncan Mason) is a young Jewish boy celebrating his first Christmas after marrying his Catholic wife. His house is decorated and pride of place is given to a lovely Christmas Tree (Charlotte Donachie). Now I really don’t want to give too much away on this one either because it has to be seen and heard to be believed.
Ultimately this is another really great play that has a few twists and turns along the way. There is a lot of humour and it really lifted the mood of the audience ready for the final play of the night, Mark Wakeman’s Stuffed.
It’s Christmas Eve and Robert (Josh Marter) really does believe it is all over. His life is in ruins since he broke up with his girlfriend. As he sits there, forcing himself to take tablet after tablet, he believes that he is heading for the sweet relief of oblivion. Will Robert get his wish to leave this mortal coil or will a foul mouthed midnight visitor with a bad attitude persuade him that maybe life is worth living? And just who is the mysterious girl (Rachael Owens) knocking at his door?
Potentially, this could have been a really depressing play – suicide and Christmas are not necessarily ideally suited bedfellows but, the playwright handles the subject sensitively and in a way that has the audience rocking with laughter without diminishing the seriousness of the topic.
Stuffed turned out to be the perfect end to a really enjoyable evening of short plays that proved once again the Bare Essentials ethos that fine writing and excellent acting are the two elements that make up an awesome theatrical evening.
Review by Terry Eastham
SHORT PLAYS BEING PERFORMED AT THIS BARE ESSENTIALS:
‘Surprise’ by Michael Perlmutter
‘Ms Claus’ by Patrick Gabridge
‘Spud’ by Robert Wallis
‘Three Elves Sitting Around Playing Poker’ by Ron Burch
‘Oh, Tannenbaum’ by Mark Harvey Levine
‘Little Wing’ by Juliette Quenin
‘Stuffed’ by Mark Wakeman