Tag Archives: Mark Keegan

“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.

www.encompassproductions.co.uk

"Flutter" at the Soho Theatre

Unlike plenty of pastimes, arguably including going to the theatre, gambling appeals to all ages and social groups. So a high-street betting shop has great potential as a location for drama, which Justin Hopper’s play utilises fully, if without sufficient focus. Flutter does, inevitably, deal with the topic of compulsive gambling. But its strength lies in showing a cross-section of society drawn to an unusual kind of community centre – which might make you think twice when you walk past a Ladbrokes again.
The play is predictable. Even big twists can be seen coming a long way off. There’s an interesting theme trying to get out, with several characters stuck in habits and in thrall to tradition, while betting on what might happen in the future frightens them. Rather than exploring this, Hopper develops a pedestrian drama, albeit one full of events and comedy. Flutter never quite runs smoothly enough and, regrettably, Gavin Dent’s direction doesn’t make the going any fairer, with fits and starts that are awkward.
Hopper’s crafting of characters is good, though. And Dent has produced strong work from his cast. Nicken Kotak and Abby Cassidy do well as young lovers with a storyline that’s too compressed. Shango Baku captivates as elderly regular Yankee Bob, while Richie Donaldson and Greg Snowden both play troubled characters with winning style. The storylines aren’t well developed but the characters themselves convince. Leading the way, with a modest tale of mature love, are Antonia Kemi Coker as the shop’s manager, and Mark Keegan as her most loyal punter, Dennis. Theirs is a long-standing affection waiting to blossom – admittedly sentimental but believable and moving. With them, the play’s qualities – likeable personalities and effective performances – coalesce, making it odds on you will enjoy the show.
Until 16 June 2018
www.sohotheatre.com
Photo by JMK Productions