Writer and Directors: Various
One of the joys of live theatre is the knowledge that the performance you see is a unique event, regardless of whether it has more nights to run. The temporary community of creatives and audience in the theatre will never again be replicated, and, of course, a cue missed or a line forgotten can alter the tone of a scene, with the result that the performance stands alone. With the theatres closed down, it is the live-ness we miss.
Encompass Productions tried to bring back this experience through a live edition of Bare Essentials, its night devoted to new writing, and produced with the bare essentials, a director, and in tonight’s case, a laptop or a camera. It’s an exciting premise, but unfortunately Encompass don’t quite pull it off; two of the four plays are pre-recorded, thus removing the slight peril of live performance, and not all the plays are examples of new writing.
With just under 100 people watching the YouTube channel – and more probably watching through Instagram – host Liam Fleming encountered a few technical issues meaning that only two of the four plays were screened. However, The Big 30! by Teresa Espejo and Radio Foreplay by Lucy Kaufman went ahead as planned, with Encompass explaining that these were live. The first of these, about a woman turning 30, and fed up with the universal narrative that suggests she should marry and have children, lacks drama. Sian Eleanor Green gives a warm performance of the woman getting ready to head out for her birthday party, and, with subtlety, shows a fear behind her determination to have a good time, but the story seems a little slight.
Radio Foreplay is an odd ten minutes, and perhaps needs a different kind of live audience, one in which you can hear others laugh. Watching alone, this meta-play about a play being accepted for broadcast on Radio 4 edges very close to schoolboy humour; a little vulgar, a little tiresome. Alexander Pankhurst does a good job as the employee tasked to remove all the swear words from this play about someone with Tourettes, but in the end these are easy laughs.
Better were the two plays that weren’t shown, but being pre-recorded they were put online a few hours later. Vintage, again by Kaufman, is about a couple, Josh Morter and Holli Dillon, whose obsession with the 1940s leads them to consult a marriage counsellor. With their clipped Brief Encounter accents, the play’s beginning is intriguing as the husband and wife tell of their decision to live in an endless 1942. Despite the war, they both believe that things were simpler than now in the 21st Century. But like the war, this play goes on for a little too long and the end is unsatisfactory.
The most ambitious of all is Little Boy by John Foster where actor James Unsworth plays the pilot of one of the planes that accompanied Enola Gay to Hiroshima. The Little Boy of the title is the name that the American soldiers gave to the bomb that caused so much destruction. Now, years later, Claude is in some kind of asylum where he rages and rages against the past. Unsworth gives an emotional performance, and even though there is someone operating a camera, the 22 minutes are delivered in a single-take. His American accent does take some getting used to, and when he shouts (and he often does) some of the words get lost completely, but otherwise the storytelling is clear.
Hopefully, the technical issues won’t deter Encompass from putting on another night of live performance. With so many pre-recorded monologues available online the market has now become pretty crowded and so it’s refreshing to see some theatre companies moving to live-ness, ensuring that some aspect of performance is retained. It’s the live aspect that we crave.