That most charming of creative producers, Liam Fleming was back last night presenting another evening of new writing. Created remotely (and without the hint of a technical hitch), the standard was consistently strong and I’m already looking forward to another date – 29 July.
The first piece is the only one with any sign of faltering. Every Seven Minutes by Ken Preuss has a good dystopian idea but a shaky hand on how many questions to tackle. Performers Ryan Brannon and Cate Olivia do well, and director Jonathan Woodhouse really helps, with great props and a clever eye on the fact we are watching on screen.
Another comedy short, Spud by Robert Wallis, is briefer but more confident. Anyone who imagines talking potatoes being baked gets a round of applause from me. Keeping up that level of surreal, even for five minutes, is impressive: bringing in some Shakespeare to provide the line, “band of Maris pipers” is the biggest laugh I’ve had all lockdown.
The two more substantial pieces are particularly impressive. Like a House on Fire, by Keith Gow is a real gem. Performed by Rachel Nott and directed by Fleming, it is a model monologue full of drama and wicked humour that plays expertly with its audience. Its appealing character, depicted so skilfully by Nott (pictured), challenges us – “go on judge me” – about her dangerous addiction, and introduces a startling sensuality. Intrigued? You should be.
Yet the highlight for me was Spread, by Robbie Knox, where Gabrielle Macpherson and Robert Gallagher play siblings to perfection in a neat short about planning for a funeral. Their memories of an aunt who it first seems they cared little for are developed in a moving fashion. The debate over what to put on her tombstone made the piece one that is memorable.
Performed live, it seems nights like these are as close as we’ll get to the theatre for a long time. That makes Encompass Productions’ commitment increasingly welcome. And important. As the lockdown continues, the crisis for theatre grows. E-ssentials is a light at the end of an increasingly long and frightening tunnel.