Take a white room in Covent Garden, a couple of lights, some chairs and what have you got? Well if you are a writer for the latest Bare Essentials production, you have the makings of a great evening’s entertainment.
As usual, Bare Essentials comprises of six short one act plays, performed with, as Encompass Productions say, no budget, so the audience is not distracted and can concentrate on the quality of the writing and acting. So, how did the evening turn out? Well, let’s take a look at each play in turn.
Opening the evening was Tom Coash’s Thin Air, the story of a tightrope walker by the name of Bird (Freya Parsons) attempting to walk the rope once more following an incident. Delivered as a monologue from the top of a small table, with a rope stretching in front, Thin Air is an emotional story with an unexpected twist. I thought Freya was excellent as she not only reeled off some amazing facts about wire walkers but also managed to maintain her balance and tell her story in a really natural and believable way.
Next up, we had The Leaving of Things by Dean Moynihan. In a big old house, two people are meeting for a single purpose. Posh boy Paul (Pip Barclay) lives in the house and is trying to relax his nervous visitor, Emma (Louise Beresford) as they prepare to carry out their plan. I really liked The Leaving of Things as, like most of the audience I guess, my mind started working towards a certain resolution to the story which turned out to be completely wrong in every respect. The two actors play their parts extremely well and worked very well together, making you wish that the two characters had met under different circumstances which might have made for an entirely different story.
Taking us to the interval was a story by John Minigan called The Maltese Walter. Dr Eddy (Austin Caley) has a new patient in the form of mild mannered Walter (Josh Morter) who has a problem. He is planning to get married to Vera (Jennie Delaney) but she is going to call the wedding off unless her can find a cure for his tendency to exercise his super power all the time. Whilst Dr Eddy is initially sceptical of Walter’s power, he is convinced when it is demonstrated and he meets the lovely Vera and sees her anguish at her fiance’s actions. I have to admit that The Maltese Walter is completely mad from start to finish. Although I guessed the ending, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and all three actors really played their parts well and Josh was excellent moving between the different aspects of Walter’s characters.
Following the interval, we returned to the performance space to see three nervous looking people sitting on chairs not talking to each other. This was our introduction to The News by Lucy Foster. Craig (Edward Bell), Mark (Howard Horner) and Gill (Hannah Lawrence) are in a hospital waiting room waiting for news on their friend Sarah, who has been taken into A&E. They have been there a while and Mark sees that as a positive since no news is good news. As time drags on Craig and Gill start to argue about what caused Sarah to fall and what could have been done to prevent her injury. The News is a short dip into the lives of three people going through the various stages of grief and works very well in that respect. Within a short space of time, we get an idea of the background of these three and some ideas of their personalities and the tensions in this group. I have to say, I was quite interested in the relationship between Craig and Gill and it struck me there was more to that than met the eye. Nice writing there from Lucy.
The penultimate show turned out to be my favourite of the night. Love in Freefall by Simon Jackson was simply brilliant from beginning to end. Three soldiers are on exercise and are doing a parachute jump. As they freefall to earth, Johnson (Sam Dunstan) decides the time is right to confront his colleague, Lawrence (James Umsworth) over something. As the two of them plummet towards the ground, their conversation becomes more heated and gets to a point where only the actions of Major Steve (Jordan Kuame) can save the day. If anyone ever asks you about the magic of theatre, then mention Love in Freefall. Three blokes in DPM (that’s camouflage to you) tee-shirts with backpacks stand with the arms raised and their hands wobbling and suddenly the audience is transported to a few thousand feet above the ground, moving through the rushing air (excellent sounds effects by Jordan) with them. The story itself is pretty good with a lovely couple of twists and turns. Sam and James make a great double act swishing about the sky and trading comments with each other. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable play.
Finishing up the evening was Matthew Smith’s wonderfully titled How to Murder Someone and Make Sure They’re Absolutely Definitely Dead. Jerry (Matthew Leigh) is expecting a guest for dinner. His partner April (Samantha Wynn) is trying to talk him out of the evening, pointing out the negative aspects of what Jerry is planning to do. However, Jerry cannot be moved and eventually the bell rings and Xander (Pip Barclay) comes in. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about this one, except that Matthew’s writing is really great and I was completely wrong in the way I thought the play was going to go. The acting was great and on all levels – except maybe title length – How to Murder Someone and Make Sure They’re Absolutely Definitely Dead worked brilliantly.
This was my third visit to Bare Essentials and as with the other trips, the Encompass team delivered a really fantastic evening that I really enjoyed throughout. Ultimately, theatre is all about the writing and acting and once again Bare Essentials has delivered that message home in fantastic style. Congratulations to everyone involved.
Review by Terry Eastham
London’s best reviewed new writing night makes its West End debut, with a very special ‘best of’ edition. A critically-acclaimed series of events that stages new plays by established and emerging theatremakers from all around the world, Bare Essentials has transferred into the heart of theatreland at the Seven Dials Club, Covent Garden. Enjoy an evening of stunning theatre at its most elemental – and all for just a tenner.