Bare E-ssentials IV: A New Hope at Encompass Productions Online
There is decent variety in Encompass Production’s latest online display of new writing talent. This surprisingly swift entry from the long-running theatre platform offers up a few laughs and tears over the course of its four short plays.
The format is as minimalist as its sets, costumes and actors (a bonus in our necessarily remote times). The amiable, enthusiastic compère Liam Fleming leads you through the four plays that have been stripped back to focus on the writing, direction and performances. The “raw”, “elemental” nature of this selection on offer can be a bit undercooked, but overall there’s no short supply of dedication from all involved.
The evening gets off to a silly start with Scott Younger’s Cold Call, directed by Fleming. The lonely, office drone Steve gets an opportunity for a romantic encounter through a routine sales call. Younger’s farce gets a little strained, but it mostly works due to Duncan Mason’s amusingly laddish desperation.
The remote format works convincingly for the next play: Katie Murphy’s bittersweet Just a Game, directed by Jonathan Woodhouse. Two avid gamers must deal with the virtual and real-world consequences of losing friendship. Murphy lightly taps into issues of love, loss and online relationships, even if the dialogue sometimes slides between serious to soap-like. However, Monika Miles and Andrew Gichigi play the two-hander affectingly enough to sustain the play’s sad undertones.
It’s then back to comedy in Donna Hoke’s eccentric sketch Pay it Backward, directed by Rachael Owens. Two founders of a dubious start-up reward random acts of kindness with “external validation” (a verbal pat-on-the-back) and are baffled when a helpful patron comes to claim his “down payments”. While the blocking can be slightly awkward, resulting in the actors being positioned far from the camera, Hoke’s rapid, witty dialogue is certainly entertaining for its cynicism. It’s delivered snappily by an admirable trio of performers (Josh Morter, Holli Dillon and Simon Pothecary).
Alan Hall’s hard-hitting Crimson Eyes is a bleak gut-punch bringing an end to the night. Megan Pemberton’s taut performance as the smart young woman Phoebe, who accounts for her fall into homelessness, is definitely stirring. Hall’s difficult monologue spikes with anger and despair as he chronicles Phoebe’s pitiful collapse into life on the streets. It’s a much-needed reminder of life’s precariousness when one slides towards homelessness; Hall’s writing itself only briefly declines with the odd florid flair. Otherwise, Hall and Pemberton (with apt direction from Fleming) leave us with an arresting look at a crisis only set to get worse in the wake of the pandemic.
While Bare E-ssentials IV is a short evening “out”, it nicely displays talent from its writers, directors, performers and technicians. In this period of crisis for UK theatre, it is relieving to see companies like Encompass finding ways to strike back.
Bare E-ssentials IV: A New Hope is at Encompass Productions Online from 26th August. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch Bare E-ssentials IV: A New Hope here: