All-Encompassing Talent | Bare Essentials: The ‘Best Of’ Edition (Seven Dials Club)

Amidst¬†the flashing lights and intimidating stages of the West End, Encompass Productions brings a dose of the old-school to their brand new venue at the Seven Dials Club. The beauty of Bare Essentials is in its simplicity: a sextet of brilliant short¬†plays, selected from emerging and established playwrights from every corner of the globe, produced on a shoestring budget. Bare Essentials is¬†not a scratch night, however. These are fully-realised, whole pieces of theatre, but without fancy tech or elaborate sets to hide behind, the onus is on the directors and actors to bring these stories to life¬†with everything they’ve got. In this ‘best of’ edition, Encompass present¬†their best pieces from the last four¬†years of bare-bones theatre stripped back to its most elemental.

Thin Air
by Tim Coash

This stunning glimpse into love and loss from the (literal) Birds-eye view of a tightrope walker is gripping from the start as the lone actor Freya Parsons seduces her audience with tales of adventure and bravery. Audiences absolutely love it when performers mess it up, but when it comes to walking a 2cm-thick steel wire dozens of metres above, the smallest mistake means certain death. The program asks us to enter with questions, and the question here was clear: if she was, as she claims, “born on the wire”, why is she shaking? I found it impossible to break my gaze as I waited for the answer.

*****
Directed by Liam Fleming
Starring Freya Parsons

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Louise Beresford as Emma and Pip Barclay as Paul in The Leaving of Things

The Leaving of Things
by Dean Moynihan

Although there is an understated and haunting cleverness to the concept of strangers meeting on an internet forum for suicidal adults who don’t want to die alone, Moynihan has given very little respect to his subject matter. I twisted uncomfortably in the front row as my fellow audience members laughed at the innuendo and cheap gags peppering what should have been a rather sombre affair. While there is room for comedy in plays concerning suicide and mental illness, this lighthearted duet left me angry and disappointed at what was, quite frankly, an ethically careless piece of writing. While Louise Beresford and Pip Barclay showed a great deal of onstage chemistry and brought to life the depth of their characters with exceptional grace, it is difficult to forgive the questionable ethics and poor quality of the writing as part of what should have been a showcase of Bare Essentials’ best short pieces.

**
Directed by Jonathan Cooper
Starring Louise Beresford and Pip Barclay

The Maltese Walter
by John Minigan

Full of witty one-liners and side-splitting caricatures, this hysterical play on film noir had me in stitches. For myself and the two other Americans in the room, some extra added humour came in the form of the not-so-subtle references to Utah’s Mormon community that had me giggling like a five-year-old. Another treat for the Americans were the¬†flawless¬†regional accents, which I cannot commend enough.¬†The Maltese Walter¬†presented as almost a recipe for the perfect short comedy: an exceptional idea, with brilliantly clever dialogue, expertly executed¬†by hilarious and versatile actors who seemed to be having a whale of a time switching between their meek and mild-mannered Mormon selves, and their bold and brash film noir¬†counterparts.

*****
Directed by Katie Turner
Starring Josh Morter, Austin Caley and Jennie Delaney

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Josh Morter as Walter and Jennie Delaney as Vera in The Maltese Walter

The News
by Lucy Foster

In this simple yet heartbreakingly effective piece, Encompass keep their promise of exploring the psychological and the emotional. After Sarah suffers a drunken fall and ends up in the hospital in critical condition, three friends await news of her fate. And no news is good news… right? As they try in vain to keep their spirits up and remain optimistic in the hospital waiting room, the dynamic between these three worried pals runs through what feels like a rollercoaster version of the¬†five¬†stages of acceptance after a bereavement.¬†The News is¬†a perfect example¬†of what¬†Encompass aim to provide with their Bare Essentials nights: the depth and clarity of a full-length production, stripped back to its bare bones, with raw emotion and tension¬†at the forefront. Specific mention must go to Edward Bell, whose portrayal of Craig the aggressive and guilt-ridden Scotsman brought a tear to my eye.

****
Directed by Lucy Foster
Starring Edward Bell, Howard Horner and Hannah Lawrence

Love in Freefall
by Simon Jackson

With guerrilla sound effects provided by Jordan Kouame as Major Steve, and startling creativity in the direction by Liam Fleming, this was by far my favourite piece of the night. Again, it’s a simple concept, with some glorious farcical humour, playful acting, and an impressive ability to keep a straight face. Much like¬†The Imaginary Friends Club¬†of¬†the previous Bare Essentials night (in which Sam Dunstan also featured), this kind of comedy fits perfectly into this ‘bare-bones’ style, well-deserving of a place in this ‘best of’ showcase.

*****
Directed by Liam Fleming
Starring Jordan Kouame, James Unsworth and Sam Dunstan

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James Unsworth (left) as Lieutenant Lawrence and Sam Dunstan (right) as Private Johnson in Love in Freefall

How To Murder Someone and Make Sure They’re Absolutely Definitely Dead
by Matthew Smith

Despite its long and enticing title, this piece was exceptionally disappointing, and had no place in a showcase of Bare Essentials’ best¬†pieces from the last four¬†years. Lazily written, messily directed, and a plot with purposeless ambiguity.¬†I have very little to say about this one: for a company who normally put on some spectacularly comedic and thought-provoking pieces performed with beautiful minimalism, Encompass have failed me here.

*
Directed by Jonathan Woodhouse
Starring Samantha Wynn, Matthew Leigh and Pip Barclay

On the whole, the stunning minimalism presented by Encompass here¬†is precisely¬†the kind of theatre London¬†needs more of. With honesty and simplicity at its heart, Bare Essentials create a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere that makes¬†simply great theatre accessible to everyone. Despite the two disappointments in Moynihan’s and Smith’s work,¬†this new writing night is, I feel, exactly what theatre¬†should be: Giving new and established writers alike the chance to have their work performed honestly, without all the bells and whistles of the West End, and allowing directors and actors to take risks, to explore their full capacities, and to truly¬†play¬†with their work.¬†Bare Essentials is a night I will keep coming back to, and I look forward¬†to seeing what they will bring to their new venue in the future.

****
Encompass Production presents: Bare Essentials ‘Best of’ Edition
Produced by Liam Fleming, Jonathan Woodhouse & Rachel Owens
Seven Dials Club, 8th, 15th and 22nd July 2016
Tickets available: on the door or online here 

[Thank you to http://www.TheatreBloggers.co.uk for this opportunity]

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