Tag Archives: John Foster

“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.


“Chummy” at the White Bear Theatre

John Foster’s new play has two strong ideas behind it: the scenario, of a killer hiring a private detective to stop him killing, and the delivery, which has the story retold and commented on simultaneously. The plot has the potential to grip and the telling, with characters revealing their inner dialogue, creates the entertaining sensation of reading a book. Sadly, implementation of this novel technique has appeal only for aficionados of crime fiction.

Megan Pemberton takes the lead as Jackie, an ex CID with PTSD and an overripe vocabulary, who is haunted by phone calls from the titular “maybe murderer”. Foster knows his heroine is too close to cliché and is playing here – but the game has limited appeal and doesn’t make things easy for Pemberton. Credit to Pemberton for holding the stage: direct addresses are strong and her detailing of Jackie’s mental breakdown, leading to the play’s twist, is good.

Her friend on the phone, Chummy, is an even harder role that Calum Speed tackles well. The character is a blank slate described in detail – an oxymoron that should ring bells well before we learn his name. Speed manages to make it work with a creepy laugh and various voices. As for Chummy’s victims – played valiantly by Jessica Tomlinson – oh dear. The first has a little wicker basket to carry flowers and uses the word “fudge” a lot. The second is an equally unbelievable police woman who acts as a stand-in at the world’s least successful crime reconstruction.

There is a point to reach and some skilled direction from Alice Kornitzer propels the audience. But Foster needs to curb his enthusiasm. More than one scene might be cut and all of them curtailed. The plot is slow and the language verbose. The aim of steeping us in noirish thrillers falters with pained metaphors, excessive alliteration and a lack of humour. That the dialogue is odd eventually makes sense, but the language is jolting – I am sure I heard the word milquetoast used at one point, and lost a few lines after that in bewilderment. There’s far too much lyrical talk of The City – unspecified – and as Foster surely knows, fictional detectives need defined locales; nice try for something different but it doesn’t work. The evening is saved by some nice touches from Kornitzer and three strong performances but the play is overwhelmed by the genre that inspired it.

Until 10 June 2017


Photo by Headshot Toby