So, you have toiled away and written your first short play. It’s a work of love but you don’t know what to do with it now. If I was in this scenario and unsure what to do with my magnum opus, I would get in contact with Encompass Productions and see if they fancied putting it on as part of their highly successful “Bare Essentials” season. OK, so I don’t have a play but luckily a lot of people do and last night I trotted along to the Amersham Arms in New Cross to see the seven pieces that make up this season’s offering.
First up was “Ctrl, Alt, Delete” by Dan page. Three producers, Sandra (Rachel Owens), Jane (Marcella Carelli) and Alex (David England) have a problem. Viewing figures for their programmes are on a downward spiral and it is probably time to do something drastic. Sandra suggest sacking all the writers and getting new, more enhanced ones or maybe even an automated plot generator – if, like Alex you think these don’t exist, just check out a certain Mr TC’s movies. This leads to a lot of discussion with the writers submitting some future plotlines that are both novel and amazingly ingenious.
“Ctrl, Alt, Delete” was a lovely opener to an evening dedicated to writing, and Director Jonathan Woodhouse kept the pace fast and lively with the Producers getting more panicked as they started with a ratings slump and ended with a terrible realisation of what was to come.
Changing the pace we had “The Leaving of Things” by Dean Moynihan, a wonderful two-hander about Paul (James Barbour) and Emma (Alice Corrigan), two people who had met on an internet forum and arranged to meet up. This being their first meeting, and in light of the purpose of that meeting, they were both extremely nervous, particularly Paul, who Emma quickly established, had self-image issues and may not have been 100% committed to their joint undertaking. At the end, a decision is made and ……….
Well, that’s where it was left in this great piece. Both actors, under Director Matt Beresford, revolved around each other perfectly. Alice Corrigan’s Emma has a steadfast commitment to their purpose. Even Paul’s delaying tactics – including an awesome if not necessarily appropriate playlist – will not stop her achieving her goal, or will he? For all Paul, played beautifully by James, is a quiet, unsure person, he does have a real sense of honesty about him that may break through Emma’s resolve. “The Leaving of Things” was definitely one where I wanted to know the ending.
I’m going to be honest and say the next piece “Panther” by R. J. Thomson was my favourite of the night. A young man (Alexander Pankhurst) is out in the fields looking for a panther. Nobody else believes there is one but he knows he has seen it. The man’s obsession in finding the panther is not just to prove he is right but also to clear his name over a matter of murder. In the course of this wonderful monologue, we learn so much about the young man. He is, not to put too fine a point to it, a simple soul with a wonderful wide-eyed naivety about life in general. He loves his dad and can’t understand why his family fell out with the neighbours – especially as it all seemed to be over some chutney. But he gets on with life and just wants to find his panther for everything to be OK.
Director Liam Fleming has put together a wonderful monologue in “Panther” and Alexander really portray the young man superbly. Making excellent use of the stage space, he grabs the audience’s attention from the moment they hear his voice and he never lets it go as he tells his story of life in a small village – if only the writers of The Archers were this good.
The final performance before the interval was David Wiener’s “Feeding Time at the Human House”. Have you ever been to a zoo and looked at the baboons through the fence? Ever wondered what they were thinking as they wander through their enclosure? Well, in the case of Fran (Liz McCullen) and Bernie (Pip Barclay), they are thinking exactly the same about the human animals visiting their zoo and frankly, they don’t really understand them. It’s Fran’s birthday and she is starting to feel her age, worried that her sexual attractiveness may not be as big as it once was. Bernie reassures her by getting her to people-watch and points out the strangeness of the humans.
“Feeding Time at the Human House” opens up some interesting possibilities. Monkeys and apes are renowned for being highly intelligent, with an ability to communicate between themselves, so it is not beyond the realms of fantasy to believe that they do sit there watching the people wandering by. Annemarie Highmore makes a baboon cage out of a couple of boxes and both Pip and Liz really move well, managing to make the audience believe they are baboons whilst at the same time having enough human characteristics to make their conversations together highly believable – especially their reveal of the truth about dolphins.
After the interval, we returned to see three young people sitting, looking pensive. This was the introduction to “The News” written and directed by Lucy Foster. It transpires that the three, Gill (Hanna Lawrence), Mark (Joe Bence) and Craig (Jack Bence) are friends who were on a drunken night out when the fourth member of their group fell down some stairs and ended up in hospital. As they wait for news of their friend, the tension builds and the accusations and recriminations start to fly. Whilst Mark tries to keep the peace, Gill and Craig go for each other with Craig coming in for a lot of blame from Gill, as they wait and wait to find out what happens next
This is an interesting piece as it really reflects the reality of waiting for information in a hospital. Nobody wants to be there and, whilst everyone is hoping for the best outcome, it is obvious that they are all expecting the worst. As such, they resort to infantile actions – attack being the best form of defence, trying to move the conversation away hiding in their shell hoping not to be spotted. Lucy has explored all of these very well and by the end, we know a lot about the relationship between the four of them and really care about the news yet to be delivered.
The penultimate play “Confessions A Deux” by Stephen Cooper is a complete contrast to the previous piece. Father Henry Shannon (Josh Marter) is a young priest about to complete his time at seminary and he is getting ready to take his first confession. The confessee is one of his colleagues, Father Martin Gregory (Graham Christopher) and despite his initial nerves, Father Shannon manages to get through the ordeal. Luckily Father Gregory is a priest of the old school and only has the most minor sin to confess to. The two priests swap places and now Henry is the confessee and initially his sins are the type we would hope a young priest has. As time passes, the two priests hear each other’s confessions and find out that both of them are walking down a dangerous road.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about “Confessions A Deux” as that would give way too much away about this tale of humans in priestly robes. I will just say that it is a lovely piece of writing that had the audience laughing along as the lives of Henry and Martin were revealed. Alice Karnitzer’s direction is light but very effective and really gives the impression of a confessional as the two priests swap sides to effortlessly move from confessor to confessee and back again.
The final production in this evening of entertainment was the intriguingly titled “Nothing Could Surprise Me Now” by Alain G. Cloarec. How to describe this play? Well, imagine if you had to articulate everything you did – providing a third person past tense narration to your life. This is the problem faced by Narrator 1 (Duncan Mason) who has woken up unable to communicate but only able to narrate his life. This is bad enough but he is soon joined by Narrator 2 (Louise Beresford) who is suffering from the same complaint. Things become tough and then when Narrator 3 (Robert Wallis) arrives it all goes horribly wrong.
“Nothing Could Surprise Me Now” is a terrible title as this play was full of constant surprises for the actors and audience alike as Director Michaela Frances Neil has great fun with the wonderful prose and the absurdity of the situation that the three narrators find themselves in. All three actors are superb in articulating their movements, feelings and thoughts as they go through the show. I have actually tried narrating my life this morning and it’s not easy, so I tip my hat to them.
And that was “Bare Essentials”. What did I learn from the evening? Firstly, there are some fantastic writers out there and Encompass Productions should be applauded for offering them the opportunity to have their pieces performed. Secondly, whilst we all love the spectacle of a huge, glitzy West-End show, all you really need to put on a night of awesome theatre is a room, a lightbulb or two, a couple of chairs, and a talented pool of writers, directors and actors. Luckily “Bare Essentials” has all of this and more. So I would really recommend you get along before it’s too late, and don’t forget to tweet using #BareEssentialsLDN, you never know what that might bring.
Review by Terry Eastham
An acclaimed series of events featuring new work from established and emerging international theatremakers, Bare Essentials showcases fantastic theatre at its most elemental. The diverse range of short plays include everything from gripping drama to laugh-out-loud comedies and will be performed at the Take Courage Theatre (Amersham Arms) Tuesday 30 June – Friday 03 July at 7.30pm.
Ctrl, Alt, Delete by Dan Page
The Leaving of Things by Dean Moynihan
Panther by R.J. Thomson
Feeding Time at the Human House by David Wiener
The News by Lucy Foster (Royal Court Young Writer)
Confessions à deux by Stephen Cooper
Nothing Could Surprise Me Now… by Alain G Cloarec
Encompass Productions presents BARE ESSENTIALS
Tues 30 June, Wed 01, Thurs 02, Fri 03 July at 7.30pm
Take Courage Theatre (above The Amersham Arms), 388 New Cross Road, London SE14 6TY
Nearest Overground: New Cross (2min walk) & New Cross Gate (5min walk)
£9.50 (tickets available online and on door)
#BareEssentialsLDN @encompassonline www.encompassproductions.co.uk/BareEssentials
Thursday 2nd July 2015