Tag Archives: Encompass Productions

“Bare E-ssentials 5: Far From Home” from Encompass Productions

The last instalment of this online writing night – which has been a real boon over lockdown – is good news! Good, because a real-life event is planned, at The White Bear Theatre, in November. I’ve already got my ticket.

The finale spoils theatre lovers with six shorts of a high standard that are strong on comedy. Two very short pieces, Suburban Buffalo Sighting by Elizabeth Speckman and Nuns by Vicky Richards, entertain. The Front Line, by Linda Robinson, is a nice take on a zoom call: a job interview for a prison officer that’s sure to make you cringe. Both Mark Keegan and Ryan Brannon are splendid as, respectively, the tactful but exasperated interviewer and the candidate who ticks all the wrong boxes. Director Jonathan Woodhouse does well with the video format.

Mark Keegan and Ryan Brannon in 'The Front Line'
Mark Keegan and Ryan Brannon in ‘The Front Line’

For me, the highlight for laughs is Ken Preuss’ piece, A Dave With Destiny. This quirky two-hander has a random meeting and a couple trying to work out where they have seen each other before. The characters are a treat that performers Ramzi DeHani and Jennie Delaney clearly enjoy. There are good gags (pork-based jokes are always fun) that director Rachael Owens marshals well. Preuss handles the ending, always tricky for short pieces, with aplomb.

The night’s dramatic offering was less successful but still deserves praise. Brothers in Arms by Warren Paul Glover is an ambitious World War I drama with siblings in the trenches confronting a secret about their private lives as they prepare to go over the top. The period language is not convincing and there’s too much cliché. But performers Will Bridges and Jack Christie do a commendable job. Above all, Glover and the team assigned to his piece by Encompass (Owens directs once more) illustrate the project’s aims and achievements. It matters not a jot that uniforms haven’t been procured or that the action takes place in someone’s hallway; the idea of focusing on writing and performance, showing us the bare essentials of theatre, is present and correct.

A final treat comes from the show’s compère – the marvellous Mr Liam Fleming. A frequent director during the series, Little Pieces shows his talent as a writer. Clearly, helping to choose so many shorts plays has taught him lessons. Fleming crams in comedy and emotion, with a strong concept opened up and explored. A super delivery from Alice Corrigan only adds to the considerable charm of the piece. The idea of questioning the vagaries of our memory is a fitting end to a series that has helped during difficult times and that I will remember fondly.


“Bare E-ssentials 4: A New Hope” from Encompass Productions

I have to admit I couldn’t make the live streaming of this new writing night. And I really did miss it! Thankfully, the show is available online and the atmosphere created by its host and “custodian of the scripts”, director Liam Fleming, can still be enjoyed. The evening has become quite a habit during Lockdown and the strong writing – comedy and drama – continues to live up to high expectations.
Cold Call by Scott Younger is a fun piece, centred on a bored data management employee flirting over the phone. The solid script is elevated by Fleming’s direction and the performance of Duncan Mason (pictured top). Younger has good sense of momentum and provides a nice twist.

A different kind of call centre is the setting for Donna Hoke’s take on the idea of ‘paying it forward’.  There are three performers (Encompass Productions are spoiling us), all impressive: Josh Morter, Simon Pothecary and Holli Dilon. A nice sense of the ridiculous makes this one enjoyable, and the idea of how charity, anonymity and social media mix could easily be developed.

Less successful, but with strong ideas, is Katie Murphy’s Just A Game. Two online gamers, with a strong back story, reveal secrets and lies. The piece has a lot of potential, so it’s a shame the script and performances are a little stilted.

The evening has a stirring finale with a powerful monologue by Alan Hall, about homelessness. Impeccably performed by Megan Pemberton, with Fleming’s direction sure-footed again, this is a particularly impressive piece – and, remarkably, the writer’s first monologue.
If there is a reservation, it’s clear that using phone or video calls as a device, while suited to an online show, is becoming the new normal. It makes sense – I get it – but is it wearing thin already? Yet fear not! While another online event is planned for the 30th of September, the company hopes to be back in a real theatre – The Old Bear in Kennington – in November. I’ll be buying a ticket as soon as I can.


“Bare E-ssentials 3: with a Vengeance” from Encompass Productions

This live stream of new writing was back for a third evening with a sense of celebration. Its creators have won an award! And they’re starting a fun competition for viewers to name each night – the next one is on 26 August. With congenial host Liam Fleming creating a kind of community before our eyes, this back-to-basics ‘micro theatre’ company is thriving online.

It’s the material that counts, of course, and the four plays presented are of a high standard: writing, direction and performances. There is a bumpy start. Rules by Lucy Jamieson didn’t excite me: the humour behind two flatmates talking about STDs failed, despite Karina Holness and Esme Cooper trying very hard. But it’s a debut piece and Jamieson can learn a lot from the experience.

Two monologues showed care, cleverness and depth. Emma Dawson’s Stones Around My Neck makes you question who is gaslighting who in a skilful developing scenario. Kayla Feldman’s confident direction of Deborah Garvey is spot on. Listen by Jacquie Penrose is a cracking piece. Masterfully handling its short duration, adding just enough mystery into a vague apocalyptic setting, this phone message about a relationship that has broken down is great stuff. Aided by Fleming’s direction and (for once) the filming, an emotive performance from Amelia Parillon (pictured top) proves gripping.

Impressive as the previous piece is, my highlight was James C Ferguson’s The Chair – a deliciously wicked comedy sketch with teeth. Where the bite actually comes from is the source of surreal humour as we learn “the particulars” of two dinner guests’ disappearance. Ferguson’s language has a distinctive quality. And performers Andrew Gruen and Amy Fleming, under Jonathan Woodhouse’s direction, control their overblown characters very well indeed.

My only problem came at the end of Bare Essentials 3: with a Vengeance. Although bringing all the performers back for a bow was deserved, I still feel uncomfortable clapping a computer screen. Wouldn’t it be great to get back to real-life curtain calls? With Encompass Productions usually based in bars, maybe someone could lend a pub garden? Given what has already been achieved, if anyone can manage this next step it’s this team. Fingers crossed.


“Bare E-ssentials” from Encompass Productions

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.


“Bare E-ssentials” from Encompass Productions

This live stream, hosted by affable creative producer Liam Fleming, was a new writing night scheduled for 13 May. Such occasions are an essential part of London’s fringe and it is important that they carry on despite Covid-19. That everything didn’t go to plan is no reflection on the talent or commitment… it’s just the nature of live performance.

Things got off to a good start with Teresa Espejo’s The Big 30! about a young woman preparing for a birthday night out. What the piece lacked in originality, it compensated for with a natural tone, making its recognisable character’s concerns about the future and romance moving, and leading to a strong performance by Sian Eleanor Green. Staged presumably in Green’s own living room, director Jonathan Woodhouse clearly worked out that the piece suited an online performance and it was easy to enjoy this one outside the theatre.

Another live performance of a 2017 piece by Lucy Kaufman also suited the online format. A set of telephone conversations, from a commissioner of plays, Radio Foreplay is a clever comedy sketch that Alexander Pankhurst performed well in. It’s full of good jokes and all-out innuendo and is keen to show its intelligence.

Two further, recorded, pieces fell foul of YouTube as they contained pre-recorded music. Thankfully, they have both been made available online. John Foster’s 2015 Little Boy makes a powerful monologue for James Unsworth (pictured). It is the story of Claude, one of the pilots involved in the bombing of Hiroshima who later became a pacifist. Focusing on his PTSD is probably a wise move given the brevity of the piece, but the theme lacks originality (likewise a lot of the dialogue) and the twist of Claude’s “atonement” takes too long to arrive.

Another piece connected to war was Vintage, again by Lucy Kaufman. The scenario is the marriage counselling of an unusual couple, David and Emma, who are trying to live – Home, I’m Darling style – as if the year were 1943. Directed by Rachael Owens are Josh Morter and Holli Dillon, who both sound great, enjoy the comedy and (mostly) work well with the camera. If Kaufman doesn’t seem clear how to end the piece, she has plenty of good lines. And in a culture like ours that often seems unhealthy obsessed with “British resilience” during the war, there’s a nice idea to explore here.

Nobody should expect perfection from nights like these. Professionalism, of course, but more experimentation and enthusiasm. Encompass Productions has all three qualities and, while technical hitches are a disappointment, I trust all involved are determined to make these shows go on and I look forward to more.