Writers: Lucie Jamieson, Emma Dawson, James C. Ferguson, Jacquie Penrose
Directors: Rachael Owens,Kayla Feldman, Jonathan Woodhouse, Liam Fleming
During the period of prolonged theatre closure there has been a marked shift in the work made available online. A few months ago, companies primarily had archived productions to share but more recently the balanced has shifted to new writing, created and performed under lockdown conditions. Encompass Productions now release their third hour-long anthology collection of unseen work, Bare E-ssentials 3: With a Vengeance.
Producer and host Liam Fleming tops and tails the online stream with an overview of the company, the selection process and criteria for the sketches, extracts and short plays submitted, with no budget or props provided. Everything used in the four mini plays has been sourced from the performers’ homes. And each of the creative teams involved has taken the Encompass’s mantra of heightened reality and minimalism into their work.
Performed first, Rules is Lucie Jamieson’s 15-minute piece about flatmates Alex (Esme Cooper) and Jess (Karina Holness) who clash over a “girl code” violation that has left Alex with a possible STD. There is lots to enjoy in Jamieson’s candid discussions of the sex lives of modern 20-somethings, which reveals a variable knowledge of sexual function and protection between the protagonists. There is an amusing farce here which Holness’ more knowing Jess manages especially well, while Alex’s unexpected naivety and reliance on a key malapropism is slightly overplayed leaving the character with less room to develop.
The monologue has been an abiding feature of online theatre which is only enhanced by Emma Dawson’s accomplished Stones Around My Neck. Running at just over 10-minutes and performed by Deborah Garvey this is the story of Patty’s struggle to raise two errant daughters while managing the unforgiving men in her life. The contextual frame of Dawson’s work is particularly well established, developing a vivid sense of the off-screen characters and the conflict-driven life that Patty has lived. Garvey is particularly good at navigating between Patty’s role as victim and instigator of her own issues as she finds herself increasingly isolated as a result of Edie’s combustible behaviour.
Adding an international flavour, James C. Ferguson’s The Chair is an entertaining absurdist piece set at a dinner party in which the guests have disappeared just before desert. As neurotic husband Cole (Andrew Gruen) spins an elaborate tale and all-American wife Vanessa (Amy Fleming) arches a peppy eyebrow. Ferguson controls the tone really well, creating two contrasting characters, the cynic and the alarmist, that builds the strangeness of the comedy effectively and could be part of an expanded work. Gruen and Fleming hit just the right tone as the contained story develops in unexpectedly silly directions.
Jacquie Penrose’s Listen is a tad long at around 15-minutes but is a fitting conclusion to a varied evening. Set in what appears to be the final moments of a woman trapped in a darkened space, low battery charge gives her a few minutes to record a parting message to a partner. What emerges is a tense tale of paranoia, irrationality and self-deprecation, characterised by realistically rambling trains of thought voiced by Penrose’s character. Punctuated by the ever-reducing power, performer Amelia Parillon delivers a convincing study in obsessive love.
As the performers return for a final bow, Bare E-ssentials 3: With a Vengence draws attention to its live credentials and celebrates the eclectic approaches taken by the four selected writers. An interesting showcase for new work and an environment to test the feasibility of stories potentially destined for expansion, such risk-taking means Episode 4, scheduled for August, will be equally willing to Live Free or Die Hard.
Available to stream here