Tag Archives: Megan Pemberton

“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.

www.encompassproductions.co.uk

"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 painted 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
www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk
Photo by Headshot Toby

"After Party" at the Pleasance Theatre

Like Edward Albee’s Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, James Meteyard’s play explores a (metaphorical) hangover from years of trauma and delusion. Opening with a debauched celebration, nicely summarised, we join a group of mid-twentysomethings slowly discovering their grief over a tragedy that happened at college. In this drama about adult friends living together, the ambition is impressive, but the results are uneven.
The humour is on one note but delivered well; especially by Atilla Akinci, whose character is the only one removed from past events (using him more could have aided exposition). A bigger problem is the dialogue around those big sex and death themes – horribly stilted and painfully long winded. Will is the troubled lead with a secret – credit to Jamie Chandler for dealing with some clunky lines. One analogy – something to do with a scab – is so laboured that I glazed over. Chief culprit in the bar-room philosophy stakes is Will’s “bro” Harlan, who has an attraction for abstractions that Alex Forward braves valiantly. Injecting some much-needed realism into the group is Megan Pemberton’s Phoebe – the only character even trying to act her age. Cat Robey’s direction needs to speed this indulgence up considerably.

James Meteyard and Callum Cameron
James Meteyard and Callum Cameron

Tiresome heart to hearts, accompanied by far too much forehead slapping and exasperated sighs, are in stark contrast to scenes of tension. The group’s old friend Max’s release from prison and arrival ‘home’ are superb: the mood changing instantly and the suspense terrific. It’s a small role for Callum Cameron, but he steals the show and brings out the best in his colleagues, particularly former partner and unforgiving ex-pal played by Eleanor Crosswell and Olivia Sweeney respectively. Meteyard also performs here – well, it should be added – arguing the case for Max while his own character’s agenda creates a tense undertow.
There’s a suspicion this confrontational scene was the kernel for the play – it’s strong enough – but it takes forever to arrive. Too much effort is expended on giving time to each member of the ensemble. There’s a bold end, but it’s a shame this scene is the only one that feels hurried. Overall, a work with potential that needs polish.
Until 26 March 2017
www.pleasance.co.uk
Photos by Isaac Whittingham