Tag Archives: Rachael Owens

“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” 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.