Writers: Scott Younger, Katie Murphy, Donna Hoke, and Alan Hall
Directors: Liam Fleming, Jonathan Woodhouse, and Rachael Owens
With over two thousand submissions since Bare E-ssentials started and only four slots available in each of its monthly 65-minute sessions, Encompass Productions is working hard to support and promote new writing. Now in its fourth iteration and with a subtitle voted for by the audience, A New Hope builds on its previous work by pairing stories from UK and US writers and promising some big ‘firsts’ for the series.
Presenting a more complicated technical challenge than other pieces in the collection is Katie Murphy’s 15-minute duologue Just a Game in which online gamers Mel (Monika Miles) and Will (Andrew Gichigi) confront grief and guilt. Director Jonathan Woodhouse cuts between the side-by-side Zoom boxes so familiar in recent months within the raiding video game, to a split-screen private Skype call between the participants while playing with the visibility and size of the images as each player’s emotional state is more prominently explored.
There is plenty of depth to Murphy’s characterisation as the protagonists discuss their separation from the day-to-day world that keeps them coming back to the fantasy game and differences in lifestyle, wealth and aspiration also come between them. The dialogue becomes a little repetitive towards the end while the reasons behind Mel’s palpable fear of abandonment and Will’s refusal to be persuaded could be better explored.
Breaking further boundaries, one of the most accomplished stories of the night is Donna Hoke’s Pay it Backwards, which unites three performers in the same room. This smart scenario is set in the Random Acts of Kindness credit bureau as operators Chris (Simon Pothecary) and Tracy (Josh Morter) determine the value of good deeds based on anonymity with the motto “Perform a R.A.K, we’ll pat your back”.
With insightful discussions about the need for constant external validation and the role of social media in providing public ego-boosting, Hoke’s tale builds an interesting sense of chaos as strangers demand recognition and reward. With the introduction of Sam (Holli Dillon) Pay it Backwards is given a Strangers on the Train dramatic drive, which (although far less sinister) precipitates a final twist that never comes, but it is a well devised and enjoyable setting ripe for expansion.
Alan Hall’s concluding piece Crimson Eyes is the most overtly political, a single person to-camera monologue about homelessness that carefully avoids sentimentality to highlight a chain of events that leave Phoebe on the streets. Megan Pemberton’s carefully managed performance is particularly impressive, creating a resilient spirit in Phoebe that refuses to be cowed even when describing the toll events have taken on her.
There are moments of didacticism in Hall’s writing where the insertion of facts feels a little heavy-handed, but Pemberton hits all the right emotional notes as she relays Phoebe’s biography. Yet, she never cries, the impact of her experience enhanced by the lack of tears. Hall intersperses asides to unseen passers-by to ground his character in a convincing reality and this is one of the strongest pieces in episode four.
Scott Younger’s Cold Call, which opens this session, feels like the odd one out. Feeling overlong at 10-minutes, this is a monologue about loneliness in the workplace, but Duncan Mason’s heightened performance style in which he tries to fool an unseen triple-glazing salesman on the phone by pretending to be an office full of people never quite strikes home as its humour and Steve’s behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre without any clear purpose.
As theatres start to transition back to stage performance, Encompass Productions announced a new writing festival at the White Bear Theatre in November, while Bare E-ssentials will be back in September with a fifth online edition. Aspects of A New Hope may be a hit and miss but giving new writers this platform is hugely valuable.