Writers and Directors: Various
One of London’s best known companies specialising in new writing is back for their second online event, in which four new plays are performed live to an audience watching on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. The first of these back in May suffered from a few technical glitches meaning that only two of the four shows were screened at the time. Fortunately, Encompass’s second show goes without a hitch.
The quality of the writing has improved too, and the first show Every Seven Minutes by Ken Preuss is an absurd comedy about two employees in a job that forces them to be God. Ryan Brannon plays the jaded worker who doesn’t mind dishing out fate to people the computer has randomly selected, but new colleague Cate Olivia has a conscience when it comes to conjuring up sinkholes and giving somebody chlamydia. Brannon is excellent here as he gleefully staples condoms or stirs up some cake mixture, excited by his own power while Olivia looks on horrified. But behind the humour is an examination of personal responsibility, and how much we’d do to keep hold of our job.
The absurd reappears in the third show Spud where Liz McMullen and Richard Coffey, wrapped in tinfoil, are potatoes baking in the oven. Robert Wallis’ play is occasionally very funny, but lasts no longer than a few minutes and so in the end feels fairly inconsequential and unlike the potatoes …er… half-baked.
The best play of the evening is Spread by Robbie Knox in which a brother and sister write an eulogy for their aunt. The writing is beautifully evocative of childhood as the two try to remember what made their aunt so special. Jon, played by Robert Gallagher, recalls the bread and butter that she used to serve as he sat on the windowsill watching the cricket on the local village green. His sister Cassie, a mischievous Gabrielle Macpherson, believes that what they say about their aunt now could influence her young daughter in the future. She believes that they could spread a love and respect that existed before mobile phones and computers. Altogether, it’s an impressive package, full of laughs and nostalgia.
Finishing the evening is Rachel Nott performing in Like a House on Fire by Keith Gow, a play about a pyromaniac who has burnt down a brothel. Nott tells the story well and Gow’s writing is full of witty observations. The brothel was based in an industrial estate where workers would ‘wack off at knock off’, but more than damaging the livelihoods of sex workers, our firestarter is more interested in the size of the building, the biggest thing that she has ignited. But by forwarding so many of the details in the opening minutes, Gow’s play has nowhere to go and fizzles out, despite Nott’s convincing performance.
The whole evening with some hosting by Liam Fleming is not even an hour long but it’s heartening to be seeing live theatre. If Encompass could allow us to see more clearly that it is live it would only enhance the experience. Perhaps the actors could return for a curtain call or engage in conversation with the host after their performances to underline the fact that what we see is live and not pre-recorded. With next month’s date already in the diary, the Bare E-ssentials is becoming an essential of the summer.
Available here to stream